The immigration regulator has expressed its “deep concern” at the rules that will allow practising solicitors to operate from unregulated businesses.
Meanwhile, the regulator – the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) – has successfully prosecuted three people for providing advice illegally.
Immigration is the only area of law which is not one of the reserved legal activities but is subject to a standalone regulatory regime that allows non-lawyers to practise in it, overseen by the OISC.
In its newly published annual report, the OISC – which works with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) where needed under a memorandum of understanding – noted that the SRA’s new rulebook, Standards and Regulations, comes into force from November.
“Among the changes being introduced are important amendments to the rules which will allow SRA-regulated solicitors to work in firms which are not regulated by the SRA. The OISC has been in discussion with the SRA regarding these changes and we continue to be deeply concerned as to how they will affect OISC-regulated firms.”
However, a spokesman declined to expand on what these concerns were.
Elsewhere in the report, it said the SRA’s reforms “risk having unintended consequences for the OISC in situations where there is potential for overlap between the two regulatory regimes”.
Under the new rules, solicitors will not be able to deliver immigration services outside of firms authorised either by a legal regulator or the OISC.
This recognised that, by setting up the OISC, there was a clear statutory intention that immigration services should not be provided from an unregulated business.
The OISC regularly prosecutes those providing unregulated immigration advice and services. Two East London men who were found guilty of doing this and then laundering the proceeds were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court last week.
Abdul Mukthadir Khan and Mohammed Sayem, both of Forest Gate, were found guilty on seven counts – two counts of fraud by false representation, two counts of providing unqualified immigration advice/services and three counts of converting criminal property. The will both serve two years in prison.
Mr Khan’s wife, Mahmuda Mitu, was found guilty of one count of converting criminal property. She was sentenced to a 24-month community order.
Mr Khan and Mr Sayem, who operated from an office in Whitechapel, falsely represented themselves to be immigration advisers and obtained £26,700 from two individuals for visas which were not provided. Only £6,000 was returned.
The two victims were instructed to pay most of the money into a bank account of Ms Mitu which was operated by Mr Khan. That money was subsequently transferred to accounts held by either Mr Khan or Mr Sayem.
In addition, large quantities of money, the proceeds of criminal conduct, were transferred between bank accounts held by all three defendants over a period of two and a half years.
Her Honour Judge Korner QC said: “These are extremely serious offences. The mischief is that they take advantage of persons desperate to enter or remain in the UK. The gravity is aggravated when large sums of money are taken to assist people and no such work is carried out.”
Meanwhile, a Reading man received a community order after being found guilty of 12 counts of providing unregulated immigration advice and services.
Howard Ogbonmwan, 52, ran a company called Visionary Community Ambassadors, where between 2013 and 2015, he gave immigration advice and services to six individuals when he was not qualified to do so.
He was sentenced to a 12-month community order with a requirement to carry out 40 hours unpaid work.
His Honour Judge Dugdale said: “If someone provides immigration services, simply writing to the Home Office or an immigration tribunal on behalf of someone, or provides advice to someone, in the course of a business, they must be regulated.
“This is a very good thing because those people who come inside our community, who seek immigration advice, support, will all be very vulnerable.
“They need regulated, reliable advice. Putting it bluntly, you just can’t have people operating as a business, giving immigration advice, who don’t have the relevant qualifications.”