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Open Seminar at Score

Welcome to a seminar on 14 December with Laura Smith-Kahn, Faculty of Law, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.

Date: 14 December 2023
Time: 10.00-11.30
Venue: Score, Frescativägen 14A, Stockholm University

Trust and institutional communication: Australian migration practitioner language, identity, and regulation

In Australia, lawyers and “registered migration agents” (RMAs) assist non-citizens to prepare and submit visa applications and appeals, navigating complex law and procedures. Given the linguistic diversity and centrality of communication in this setting, strong intercultural and professional communication skills are essential (Reynolds, 2020). Having access to professional assistance can greatly improve the likelihood of a successful application (Smith-Khan, 2020, Jacobs & Maryns, 2021).

However, despite the essential work they do, these practitioners face increasing criticism and scrutiny from politicians and policymakers, who question their ethics and competence, and implement increasingly onerous regulations.

This presentation shares findings from a study of Australian migration practitioners, where these tensions are clear. An examination of key regulations and policy recommendations demonstrates how official discourses frame migration practitioners as policy problems who cannot be trusted and who therefore require close management to best protect vulnerable migrant clients.

In contrast, ethnographic research with current practitioners and practitioners-in-training helps uncover important counter-discourses. Practitioners problematize the structural barriers immigration policy and practice themselves create, inhibiting access to information and smooth communication between their clients and immigration officials. In turn, these issues also have the potential to create distrust amongst practitioners regarding the quality and consistency of decision-making, and also distrust amongst clients vis-à-vis their practitioners. Practitioners identify a range of additional work and stressors emanating from this.

I conclude that trust is a valuable conceptual lens for understanding and addressing structural issues and individual experiences within Australian migration law practice.