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Immigration regulator to give up on day job

Immigration regulator to give up on day job

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Suzanne McCarthy, the current Immigration Services Commissioner

The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) is currently consulting on the regulation of immigration advisers. Or, more accurately, the de-regulation of immigration advisers.

It is illegal to give immigration advice in the UK unless the adviser is a member of an exempted profession (mainly solicitors and barristers) or is registered with the OISC at one of three levels. Level 1 does not involve giving advice as such, merely pointing an immigrant in the right direction or filling in simple forms. There is a test to pass to register at Level 1: an online multiple choice test done in the security and privacy of your own home. Meaning, of course, that anyone can take the test for you or even if you do it yourself you can look up the answers at your leisure. Level 2 allows the adviser to actualy give advice. Level 3 enables the adviser to carry out advocacy in the immigration tribunal.

It is all a bit more complicated than this, in fact, but life is too short to go into it further. The scheme is certainly not a simple one, and the OISC has struggled for the last decade to get the public, community groups, advisers and immigrants to understand it all. Now, the OISC is proposing to tear it all up, confuse the hell out of everyone again, merge levels 1 and 2 and allow current level 3 advisers to undertake judicial review applications in the new unified tribunal. As far as I can see from the consultation paper, there will be virtually no bar to anyone giving full-on immigration advice other than the at-home multiple choice ‘test’ and there will be no bar to OISC advisers undertaking judicial review work other than a simple advocacy test.

Now, I was an OISC adviser for years. There’s certainly nothing wrong with OISC advisers. I’ve seen terrible, terrible work by immigration solicitors and excellent work by OISC advisers. But the idea that an OISC adviser would be adequately equipped to do JRs after an advocacy test by the OISC is ridiculous. And the idea that the OISC is basically giving up on preventing the ignorant from giving immigration advice is very dangerous. It will reverse the admittedly limited progress the OISC has made into closing down dodgy immigration agents and consultants.

If the OISC was serious about regulation they would concentrate on improving their screening and application process, their visits, enforcement action and audits and basically get on with it. This looks like a classic governmental response: failing to do the job properly despite having perfectly good powers in place, blaming the legal framework and fiddling repeatedly with the rules to move the goalposts. We see it often enough in immigration law already, thank you very much. The proposals will do nothing to prevent or close down bad advisers. Instead this will distract the OISC and the regulated advice sector for a couple of years while simultaneously making it easier to give incompetent advice.

If you are concerned about the regulation of immigration advisers and the quality of advice given to immigrants, you may wish to respond to the consultation.

Free Movement

The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.

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