The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is consulting on whether to extend indefinitely the suspension of immigration work from its removal of restrictions on solicitors providing non-regulated services.
The proposed rules would enable solicitors working in law firms to continue providing immigration services as usual, but those working in organisations regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) would have to be authorised separately by that body.
The SRA said it was important to be clear as to which regulator was responsible for anyone providing immigration services.
Immigration is the only area of law which is not one of the reserved legal activities yet is still subject to a standalone regulatory regime, overseen by the OISC.
As the new Standards & Regulations were introduced in November, allowing solicitors to practise from unregulated firms, the SRA had to suspend the application over these rules to immigration work because of OISC’s concerns.
Solicitors working in SRA-regulated firms are exempt from OISC regulation. But when they do immigration work elsewhere, they have to be OISC-authorised.
As long ago as last summer the OISC expressed concern over the reform and especially the overlap between its regime and the new rules.
The OISC regulates 1,612 organisations and 3,135 registered advisers. The SRA regulates a little over 5,000 immigration practitioners and around 2,000 law firms in total do some immigration work.
In addition, law centres and other non-commercial organisations employing solicitors are authorised by the OISC to provide immigration advice and services.
Solicitors are also allowed to provide immigration advice when working in-house for other organisations so long as it for their employer rather than the public directly.
The consultation runs for six weeks until 22 April.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “Immigration is a complex area of law which deals often with vulnerable people, so it’s important that there is clarity about the regulation of those delivering immigration services.
“Our proposals achieve this by making a clear distinction between when the SRA is responsible for regulating a service provider, and those who work for them, and when it is OISC.”