Lack of immigration advisers “encourages illegal services”

Tuckett: Imbalance of supply and demand

A lack of immigration advisers “encourages those who seek to provide advice illegally”, the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) has warned.

OISC said that, despite rising numbers of immigration advisers, availability of advice was “still far below the levels of demand for what is needed across the United Kingdom”.

Immigration advisers who are not qualified lawyers must be approved and regulated by OISC.

OISC regulates 3,326 immigration advisers and 1,921 organisations in the UK, and in England and Wales works with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and CILEX to police the sector.

Writing in its newly published annual report, the commissioner, John Tuckett, said that “ongoing changes to the immigration system” meant demand for immigration advice continued to grow.

“Fortunately, the number of people wishing to become immigration advisers is also rising. However, the availability of the right kind of advice, in the right place and the right time, is still far below the levels of demand for what is needed across the United Kingdom.

“A significant challenge for the future will be how to ensure the availability of immigration advice, through appropriate regulated channels, in ways that can meet the needs of those seeking advice.”

Mr Tucker said OISC’s oversight had led to “a further steady improvement in the quality of advice being given”.

“However, the current imbalance of supply and demand encourages those who seek to provide advice illegally, without being registered or regulated. The OISC is committed to disrupting this illegal activity, which often results in exploitation of vulnerable advice seekers and abuse of the immigration system.”

Mr Tucker said complaints, often the “first indication of illegal activity”, ran at “comparable levels” in 2022-23 to previous years.

OISC completed 70 investigations into complaints of illegal activity in 2022-23, cancelling the registration or refusing further registration of five organisations.

Among other audits, there were concerns at 15 firms of competence in advising clients, while six audits indicated that unauthorised people were providing immigration advice. Five organisations were “found to have incidents of misleading the authorities”.

The OISC said it received 193 applications from previously unregulated organisations, of which 152 were approved and 832 adviser applications, of which 530 were approved.

The regulator also ran 16 online competency assessments for would-be immigration advisers in 2022-23. Of the 742 applicants, 430 passed – a 58% pass rate, 3% above the figure for the previous year.

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