4 Things Australian Migration Agents Should Know About Document Translations

If you are a registered migration agent in Australia, or a practising immigration lawyer, there’s a good chance that you have had to request for documents to be translated from a foreign language into English for a client’s visa application to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).

Whilst many migration agents be aware that foreign language documents need to be translated by a translator who is accredited by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI), there are a number of things that most migration agents would not be aware of when it comes to document translations.

1. NAATI Accreditation VS NAATI Recognition

Migration Agent Translation

NAATI Accreditation is the only acceptable credential recognised by employers when it comes to the translation and interpreting profession in Australia. NAATI

accreditation can be obtained in a number of ways including, by testing, completion of translation or interpreting course at an Australian tertiary institution and, evidence of qualifications specifically in the translation and interpreting area from a tertiary institution overseas.

In comparison, NAATI Recognition is only offered for languages where NAATI accreditation testing is not currently available – commonly due to very low community demand for a language. NAATI Recognition is granted by NAATI to any person who makes an application to NAATI with sufficient evidence to prove ‘recent and regular’ experience as a translator. Recognition does not specify any level of proficiency and there is no testing mechanism in place to determine proficiency.

So, what’s the problem? NAATI accreditation testing is currently only available in 62 languages. So, what happens when you have a client that needs a certified translation into English from a language where NAATI accreditation (the only credential officially accepted for translators in Australia), is not currently available?

This is a bit of a grey area. The standard practise in the translation industry is to seek out a NAATI Recognised translator where NAATI accreditation is not currently available. Generally speaking, this seems to be sufficient for visa applications submitted to DIBP, however there has been no official word on this to date from the Department.

The disappointing aspect of this whole process is that the biggest losers from the NAATI accreditation policy are new migrants to Australia. Many new migrants come from countries where migration to Australia has not previously been common. As such, NAATI accredited language translation services are either non-existent or under extremely high demand, leading to translation costs being 200-300% higher than for accredited translators. What a great welcome to our country for new migrants when they’re slapped with a huge translation bill to accompany their visa application.

NAATI has the power and responsibility to offer accreditation testing in more languages – it’s their choice to determine when accreditation should commence for a language. From industry and community feedback, it seems that there is a disconnect between community expectations and needs for translation services in rare languages and organisational expediency to limit the languages where language testing is available.

2. Proving that a translation has been conducted by a NAATI accredited translator

NAATI stamp

NAATI Stamp Example

When submitting translated documents to DIBP, the translated documents should be in English. Somewhere on the page, the NAATI acredited translator’s name and NAATI number should appear. It is also common industry practise for the translation to be signed and dated by the translation. Commonly this information is contained within a ‘NAATI stamp’. Clients should be aware that there is absolutely no requirement for a NAATI certified translation to have this stamp on the document. The stamp is an optional purchase for translator’s from NAATI. There seems to be much misunderstanding surrounding this area – probably due to the fact that a stamp on a document makes it look more ‘official’.

Many translator’s also choose to include a ‘translator certification statement’ on their translation deliverables. This generally states that they have conducted the translation to the best of their abilities, and that they make no warrant to the authenticity of the source document. What this means is that even though the translator has translated the document, they do not know where it is an official document (say, a German birth certificate document), or whether it is a forgery.

It should be noted that a translation agency is not an authorised signatory to make certified copies of original foreign language documents. A JP, Police officer or lawyer (as well as many others) can make certified copies of foreign language documents. Generally speaking, a certified copy of the original foreign language document (eg. Spanish birth certificate) should accompany the certified translation (ie. the certified English translation of the birth certificate) when submitting documents to DIBP. This shows the link between the original document and the translated document.

3. Full translations vs Extract translations

NAATI documents

Sometimes our clients come to us with many pages of document that need to be translated into English. In some cases, many of these pages are not comprised of entirely important information pertinent for a visa application, but there may be a few things on the documents that are extremely important (eg. to prove a financial position of your client). In many cases, an extract translation will be sufficient for DIBP (however, we cannot provide any specific advice or guidance on this area). This will save your client money and can speed up the translation process. From our experience, there are many instances where an extract translation is sufficient for DIBP.

Alternatively, what is normal standard practise is to perform a full translation of the entire contents of the documents. Please note that there are many instances where a full translation would be more suitable (eg. a legal contract with terms that need to be reviewed etc). Whilst this many be more costly for your client, it can actually work out as the more affordable option if it slows down an application with DIBP and the extract translation is rejected.

4. Developing strong ties with a translation agency

There are a number of professional translation agencies in Australia that provide NAATI accredited translation services to migration agents and immigration agents – our firm, EthnoLink Language Services is one of them. Like any industry, some agencies are good to deal with and some are not so good. We tend to believe that there are a number of things that migration agents should look out for when engaging a translation agency for document translation services.

Firstly, does the agency respond to your enquiries, phone calls and emails in a timely and professional manner? Are the translation ‘experts’ knowledgeable and helpful? Do the consultants provide you with answers to questions you have? Can they provide translation services in a variety of languages? Or do they simply want to help you only with common/easier languages to source such as Arabic and Chinese?

We have a philosophy here at EthnoLink that we like to be a partner or an extension of our client’s firms – their foreign language translation experts. We work with hundreds of migration agents on a repeat basis. We provide translation services in all languages and provide a high level of customer service. Our translations are delivered in a timely fashion, supported by expert professional translators and advanced technology and systems to reduce cost, decrease errors and increase speed.

So develop strong ties with a translation agency in Australia and let them help you and your clients when it comes to foreign language translation. For any questions you may have in regards to document translations for migration agents and immigration agents, feel free to send me an email at info [at] ethnolink.com.au.


Costa Vasili EthnoLinkCosta Vasili is the founder and CEO of EthnoLink Language Services – Oceania’s/Australia’s third largest language services agency in 2014 (Common Sense Advisory, 2014). The son of Greek Cypriot migrants, Costa started EthnoLink with the vision of improving the lives of new migrants to Australia and connecting them with high quality, professional language services.

Regularly published in industry and entrepreneurial publications, Costa volunteers his time by mentoring a select number of new migrants to Australia on how to start and run a company in Australia’s competitive business landscape.


November 1st, 2014|