Tough new rules to tackle rogue immigration advisers are to be launched by the Government, the Home Office announced today.
The proposals would give greater powers to the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), which regulates the advice sector, to tackle unscrupulous as well as untrained and unqualified advisers.
The measures announced today are detailed in the ‘Oversight of the Immigration Advisers Sector Consultation’, giving users and stakeholders an opportunity to give their views on how immigration advisers can be better regulated.
The OISC is charged with regulating and ensuring that immigration advisers are trained and qualified. It currently regulates over 1,600 organisations and around 4,000 individuals.
As part of a toughening up of the system, the consultation proposals include:
- tightening restrictions on individuals who have provided immigration advice illegally so they cannot own or participate in an immigration advice business
- strengthening the rights of the OISC to access and inspect immigration advisers; and
- issuing businesses with ‘yellow card’ warnings to say that their practices are not up to scratch. These would act as notice to improve standards and set out any changes required
Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said:
‘The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner plays a crucial role in making sure that people are getting the right advice on immigration matters and tackling those advisers that play the system and offer false hope.
‘Any abuse of our immigration laws will not be tolerated. Attempts to frustrate the system cost the taxpayer money and make it more difficult for people who genuinely need our protection.
‘Those responsible will be investigated and prosecuted. The OISC has already undertaken over 75 successful prosecutions, but we need to help them to take tough action earlier.’
Since its creation in 2001 the OISC has driven up standards across the immigration advice sector.
It has received over 3,500 complaints about advisers – it has successfully prosecuted 77 organisations and individuals, issued 67 formal cautions. The courts have issued nearly £60,000 in fines and compensation, and awarded around £45,000 in court costs.
Suzanne McCarthy, Immigration Services Commissioner, said:
‘The OISC has already created a successful regulatory system and raised the standard of immigration advice available. If these proposals are implemented it will allow the OISC to give greater protection to individuals from unscrupulous advisers and protect the immigration system from abuse. Good immigration is in everyone’s interest. Bad advice ruins lives.’
These improvements to the regulation of immigration advisers follow the reforms, announced last week, to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. The Tribunal reforms will mean a faster, more efficient system that will save the taxpayer money, speed up the removal of those who are found not to need our protection while integrating genuine asylum seekers quicker.
These changes will help to improve public confidence in the immigration system and are part of the biggest shake-up to the immigration system for a generation. This also includes fingerprint visas and ID cards for foreign nationals that lock people to one identity, and our high-tech electronic border controls that check people against police, immigration and customs watch-lists and will cover even more passenger journeys by the end of this year.
Immigration Matters Comment
Legitimate Immigration Advisers will welcome tougher rules to stamp out the rogue advisers who give the profession a bad name.
Unfortunately, many so called advisers have been allowed to operate, largely unchecked, illegally in the UK for too long.
The OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) does its best, but not seem to have adequate resources or manpower to find and prosecute criminals who extort money from vulnerable migrants.
The police are not interested in tracking down or prosecuting illegal ‘immigration advisers’, despite the fact that they often take thousands of pounds by deception from migrants who believe they are dealing with a bona fide immigration adviser or lawyer.
In any other situation this would be called fraud, and the police would be arresting and charging the culprits under existing criminal law.
In some cases it can take years to bring a rogue advisers to justice. In the meantime fraudsters continue illegally taking thousands of pounds from Filipino, Indian and other migrants.
There have been several cases of Filipino Senior Carers who had paid £2500 to a person, whom they thought was a legally registered adviser, to renew their work permits in 2007 – at a time when the Home Office had blocked all extensions and there was no chance of obtaining a permit.
The girls never saw their money again and were left in dire straights with their visas.
What can you do to avoid illegal immigration advisers?
A simple way to verify an adviser’s status is to check that the adviser and firm are legally registered (as they must be) to give immigration advice on the OISC or the Law Society website. This does not of course verify that the person you are talking to is the adviser listed, but it is a good starting point.
The OISC publish a useful guide: ‘How to choose an immigration adviser’ on it website.
Before you put your trust in any professional you must do your own ‘common sense’ checks. For instance, does the person have an office you can visit or are they asking you to meet at a McDonalds or in a pub? You may laugh, but I have met more than one candidate who handed over £2000 in cash to a person calling themselves a Solicitor in the East Ham branch of McDonalds. Both cash and ‘Solicitor’ were never to be seen again.
Warning bells should also be sounding loud and clear in your head if the adviser is insisting you pay in cash or to an off-shore bank account.
Be cautious of sending money to a person you have never met or cannot verify. There are of course many legitimate advisers which operate a telephone or internet based service, however, in the above mentioned fraud case, it was difficult to bring the fraudster to justice because few people had ever met the adviser in person.
Anyone can be impressed by a fancy website, but there’s nothing like checking out someone in person, face to face, at their premises.
Advisers should be giving you their business cards and terms of business outlining their fee structure. They should also be knowledgeable, professional and know what they are talking about. If in any doubt, walk away.
Finally, if the advice and solution being offered sounds ‘too good to be true’, it probably is.
Just as most financial frauds are perpetuated by investor’s greed to obtain unrealistic returns, immigration victims pay money to illegal advisers because they promise something honest advisers have told them cannot be done.
If you would like to share your ‘immigration advice’ experience with our readers, write your comments below.
If you need any immigration advice or help with Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa or an appeal against a refusal please email: