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Finding a solicitor for free immigration advice

Immigration law and visa requirements change frequently. If you have an immigration-related problem, it can be difficult to understand what to do, how to do it and who to speak to.

If English is not your first language, it can be even harder to find out how to proceed.

An expert immigration solicitor will be able to explain immigration law and proceed in simple language. Many solicitors can also offer services in other languages, if you are not a fluent English speaker, including French, German, Polish, Spanish, Hindi, Urdu and Chinese.

What kind of immigration advice do I need?

There are a number of options to consider from when looking for advice. Many websites and online forums will offer advice, but this information can be out of date, or incomplete.

The Government recommend that you get help from a qualified professional. Two types of qualified immigration specialists are Immigration Advisers and Immigration Solicitors.

Immigration Advisers

Immigration advisers are trained to help with many different types of immigration issue, including visa applications, advice with filling out forms, and help with representation at an immigration tribunal.

These advisers cannot make decisions on cases, and can only provide advice.

Some immigration advisers work privately, and may charge a fee for their services. Some charities and organisations like Citizens Advice also work with qualified advisers. Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for free advice.

You should always check that an adviser is regulated and is listed on the Office of Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) website, before instructing them to help, and before paying any fees.

Unregulated advisers may charge high fees for poor or inadequate service, and because they are unregulated, it can be difficult to make a formal complaint or recover the money you have lost. For a OISC-regulated adviser, you can escalate a complaint to the OISC. 

Immigration Solicitors

Immigration solicitors have had several years training in the law, both studying at university and as a trainee. Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and are bound to the SRA's strict code of ethics and conduct.

In addition, many lawyers who offer immigration advice will have had additional specialist training, like the Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme.

If you are not satisfied with a solicitor's performance, you can make a formal complain through the Legal Ombudsman.

Who should you choose?

Advisers can get apply to be regulated by the OISC in a short time, and do not require formal qualifications. Solicitors can take many years to qualify. This difference does not mean that a solicitor will give better advice than an immigration adviser, and many OISC-regulated advisers have a law degree or professional qualification.

An advisor will focus on immigration matters exclusively, whereas some solicitors may handle a range of other work, like property conveyancing or injury claims.

In general, you can choose either a solicitor or a regulated adviser, and both should be able to deliver the same standard of service.

An exception to the above would be complex cases and more complex appeals. If you need legal advice for a complicated matter, or to make an appeal, you may wish to instruct an immigration solicitor on the basis that their years of training may better equip them to handle cases that need research and a knowledge of case law.

Can I get free immigration advice?

It is possible to get free advice from sources like Citizens' Advice. This advice could include:

  • Help with visa applications
  • Application for citizenship
  • Help with following up on delays

Free advice is unlikely to be available for more complicated matters, however. You should ask the solicitor or adviser whether they offer free advice or a free consultation before you sign anything.

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