Consulting EU citizens regarding obtaining of the immigration status under new registration scheme may be illegal

The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) published a guidance on 16 October 2018, which clearly states with examples, when it is illegal to provide advice to EU citizens and their non-EU family members on obtaining immigration status after Brexit.

According to the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, it is illegal to provide immigration consulting services without specific accreditation. Only registered solicitors, barristers, CILEX specialists (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives), as well as consultants who have received OISC accreditation can provide immigration advice and assistance. Providing immigration services without accreditation may lead to prosecution. The maximum penalty for violating this law is two years imprisonment. In 2017/18, there were 4 court cases in relation to this matter. In previous years there were around 14 cases. Half of the defendants were sentenced to imprisonment and one unregistered consultant was jailed for five years in 2018.

Some experts are concerned that the current system of regulating the immigration consultants is not suitable to cover certain areas and provide immigration advise. From March 2019 around four million EU citizens living in the UK will have to apply for residency status. Many of them will need assistance with application process and advice on supporting documents.

According to OISC, as of 31 March 2018, there are 3,137 OISC registered consultants, 1,728 immigration solicitors and 80 barristers. In total there are about 5,150 specialists working in England and Wales, who can legally advice on immigration matters. In some areas in the UK there are no registered professionals, but there are EU citizens. At the same time, there are many voluntary organizations and community groups across the UK ready to assist vulnerable EU citizens, but at the moment they will not be able to help because they do not have the necessary accreditation.

Here are some examples from the guidance published by OISC about who can/cannot give immigration advice:

1) Polish community support groups can prepare an information booklet with general information about obtaining immigration status. However, they cannot meet applicants in person and advice on this matter.

2) If an EU citizen is self-employed, his accountant may advise him that it is not necessary to submit full accounts with their immigration application. But the accountant cannot assist with filling out an application form or advice the EU citizens about supporting documents to be submitted to Home Office.

It remains unclear how EU citizens can get assistance if local charity and support communities are not eligible to provide any immigration advice considering that there are not enough registered consultants to cover such a wide scope of work.

The Home Office recently published a document recommending OISC to introduce a simplified process for registering non-profit and charitable organizations who want to advise EU citizens on obtaining immigration status after Brexit. This seems quite a reasonable proposal, but, unfortunately, there has been no response from the OISC yet.