Immigration Advice Manual-Australia

Immigration Advice

From Stars N Beyond Representative in Australia

The Migration Act 1958 states that it is necessary for individuals who provide immigration advice to others for a fee to be registered as migration agents (RMAs) by the Office of the Migration Agent Registration Authority (OMARA).

This legislation does not apply to education agents outside Australia.

Education agents in Australia (not overseas):

  • Must limit their advice about immigration matters to explaining information that is publicly available (on the DIBP website for example).
  • Must not provide substantial comment on the information other than to help the student understand the information if English is not the student’s first language.
  • Should limit their advice to student issues alone.
  • Can assist in completing student visa applications for their students and act as a point of contact

for DIBP during the progress of an application.

If you are an education agent working in Australia you can help your students by:

  • posting or delivering a visa application to the department on behalf of your student
  • undertaking clerical work to prepare, or help prepare a visa application
  • providing translation or interpretation services to help prepare a visa application
  • advising your student that he or she must have a visa to stay in Australia
  • passing on information from a third party, without comment or explanation, e.g. information publicly available from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection
  • being nominated to receive correspondence on behalf of your student.

Registered Migration Agents undergo a rigorous registration process and continuing professional development. This is because of the large number of visa types and the frequent changing of visa regulations and conditions. So, education agents who are not RMAs are not equipped to understand the factors that impact on an individual’s migration plans.

Education agents in Australia who are not RMAs should not attempt to:

  • Case manage a student’s application for permanent residence,
  • Provide any detailed analysis of a student’s migration pathway.
  • It is a criminal offence in Australia to give immigration advice if an individual is not an RMA. You need to put a student in contact with a Registered Migration Agent as quickly as possible if:
  • The student is having significant difficulty in complying with their visa conditions, or
  • The student has received a notice of visa breach.

Any appeal needs to be lodged within a strict time limit.

To find RMAs in Australia or overseas please refer to the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority search page.

Privacy, Student Complaints and Appeals


The Privacy Act was passed by Federal Parliament in 1988. This legislation relates to all people in Australia, and applies to people working with international students. Privacy laws can determine what information can or cannot be provided to an agent.

If a student reasonably believes they have not received acceptable services they can make a complaint or if they have received a negative decision they can lodge an appeal. This section will consider the common complaints and the processes to be followed.

Focus Questions

  1. How should a student’s private information be collected and used?
  2. How do privacy laws relate to students aged 18 or over?
  3. How do privacy laws relate to medical situations?
  4. What do students complain about?
  5. What mechanisms are available to make a complaint for an international student in Australia?

What Should an Agent Know About Privacy?

If you are an agent working in Australia

  • You are subject to the privacy laws;
  • You need to understand how information about individuals can be used.

If you are an agent working outside of Australia

  • you need to understand how some information cannot be given by certain institutions such as hospitals without the written permission of the student. This can be confusing if this does not occur in the student’s home country.

There are four general issues you need to be aware of:

Collection of information

  • An agent or provider must only collect information that is necessary for its normal function. It cannot collect information about a student that is unrelated to its function.
  • The student must know if information is collected.
  • If practical, information can be only collected from the student and not from other sources.

Use of information

• An education provider must only use the information for the purpose that it was collected unless the student agrees to it being used for other purposes.

Security of information • An education provider must protect the student’s information from loss or misuse.

Access to information • The student must have access to the information on request.

Standard 3.3.6 of The National Code 2018 states that a written agreement with a students must set out the circumstances in which personal information about the student may be disclosed by the registered provider, the Commonwealth including the TPS, or state or territory agencies, in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988.

When is Privacy a Concern?

There are two common circumstances in which an agent or parent may wish to find out more about the student in Australia. However, it is possible that they may not be able to obtain any information. These cases are:

  1. Academic progress and results

This circumstance is specific to a student who is 18 or more years old. This means the student is legally considered an adult under Australian law. So, information cannot be provided to anyone unless there is specific instruction from the student.

Question – Can an agent obtain information about a student’s academic progress in order to provide to a parent or guardian?

  • Yes – If the student gives his/her consent in writing for the education provider to provide the results.
  • No – If the student does not want to give his/her consent.
  • No – If the student is not available to give their consent. Academic results cannot be obtained

even if the agent thinks that the student will agree to provide them.

  1. Medical situations

One of the most difficult circumstances concerns students who have medical problems. This is because the student’s parents may not speak English well and they may expect the agent to investigate the problem.

Question – What happens if a student is unable to communicate? For example, the student may have had a serious accident and may be unconscious.

  • The medical authorities may not agree to communicate with an agent or the education provider.
  • However, the medical authorities will always communicate with the students parents / wife / husband (unless the student has expressed a wish for them not to).

The medical authorities have the power to consider each case and its circumstances. They can decide to release sensitive medical information if they believe it is appropriate, and in the best interests of the student.

In these situations, it is better for an agent to work closely with the education provider. This is because the education provider is in a better position to obtain information, especially if the agent lives outside Australia.

Student Complaints and Appeals Overview

If international students do not get the services they pay for, they have a right to complain. When they have an adverse judgement made against them, (such as failing a subject or not meeting the attendance requirement), they have the right to appeal the decision. In the first instance, these matters will be dealt with internally and the education provider will have a complaints and appeals process that should be followed.

The Overseas Students Ombudsman (OSO) deals with complaints made against any private educational institution. Government institutions use a State Ombudsman or range of Tribunals (depending on the nature of the complaint or appeal to serve the same purpose. See this website for more information.

If the student wishes to make a complaint, an agent may be asked to help the student understand the process they need to follow or they may be the subject of the complaint themselves.

What do overseas students complain about?

Students can complain about their education provider if they believe the provider may not have followed the rules correctly or treated them fairly. The common complaints according to the OSO are:

  1. Refund & fee disputes (28%)
    2. Transfer/release letter external appeals (16%)
    3. Unsatisfactory attendance external appeals (11%)
    4. Unsatisfactory course progress external appeals (9%)

Complaints might also be about:

  • being refused admission to a course
  • course fees and due dates
  • graduation/completion certificates/academic transcripts
  • cancellation of enrolment
  • accommodation or work arranged by a provider
  • incorrect advice given by a provider’s agent
  • inaction or delay, for example, failure by a provider to issue student results within the normal timeframes, or failure to provide services that were included in the student’s written agreement with the education provider.

The OSO do not investigate complaints where a student took more than 12 months to complain.

The Process

When a complaint is received, an assessment is first made about whether it is an issue that the OSO can investigate. In some cases, the Ombudsman may decide not to investigate a complaint. This might be because:

  • the student has not complained to the education provider first, or
  • another organisation is better able to deal with the complaint.(e.g. the police if it is a criminal


  • If a decision is made to investigate a complaint, the Ombudsman will ask the education provider about the problem. The Ombudsman may request relevant documents, or information such as student records from the provider.

The OSO can use formal powers to obtain documents from the education institution and also has the power to enter premises or require a provider to answer questions as part of an investigation.

What happens at the end of an investigation?

At the end of an investigation the Ombudsman may conclude that the provider has not acted unreasonably, and will advise the student and the provider of this decision.

In other cases, the Ombudsman may conclude that the provider failed to take appropriate action or the action appears to have been:

  • contrary to law
  • unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory or
  • otherwise, in all the circumstances, wrong.

Where that happens, the OSO may recommend that a provider remedy the problem for example by:

  • apologising to a student
  • reconsidering a decision affecting a student
  • providing a refund
  • providing clearer information or
  • changing a policy or procedure.

Students also complain about their agents

Common complaints about agents:

  • Giving false or misleading advice about a course or provider
  • Enrolling a student with one provider while telling the student they had been enrolled with a

different provider

  • Accepting tuition fees before the student signed the written agreement
  • Failing to pass on tuition fees to the provider
  • Failing to give the student a copy of the written agreement, with the refund policy, so the student is unaware of their rights
  • Receiving a refund on behalf of a student when not authorised to do so in the student’s written agreement with the provider
  • Receiving a refund on behalf of a student when authorised to do so but then failing to give the refund to the student
  • Arranging sub-standard accommodation in Australia and failing to assist the student when they complained.