Maria Fridye explains the thinking behind Citizens Advice Waltham Forest new fee-paying immigration service
As a nationally renowned service, the Citizens Advice network provides the advice people need for the problems they face, and improves the policies and practices that affect their lives. Adhering to the aims and principles of its network, Citizens Advice Waltham Forest launched its fee paying immigration service in May 2016, specifically as a result of an increase in demand for specialist immigration advice and assistance.
The service is staffed by fully qualified immigration and asylum caseworkers, who are registered by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), and who, between them, have over 40 years experience of providing immigration advice.
The Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016, have not only made changes to immigration law and practice, but have also extended immigration control into other areas, such as housing, social welfare and employment. In addition, budget cuts have meant legal aid has become inaccessible for many people with immigration problems. Resources in this area are limited, and, as a consequence, Citizens Advice Waltham Forest has noticed an increase in the demand for immigration advice from members of the public, particularly from documented, undocumented and EU migrants.
Government policy, and the political climate, have raised anxieties and adversely impacted the lives of settled migrants in the UK. EU nationals who may consider themselves and family members settled here, now face uncertainty about their future in the UK. Since September 2016, the Department of Education now requests children in schools in England, to show their passports and birth certificates to prove their nationality and country of birth, which is of great concern to many parents. These are real issues for clients and callers to the service and, as a result, we have become inundated with calls from non-EU and EU migrants, seeking clarity about their immigration status and future in the UK.
Citizens Advice Waltham Forest fee paying immigration service aims to ensure individuals do not suffer through lack of knowledge of the immigration laws and their rights. We offer a free consultation, followed by a full casework service, which includes assisting with applications to the Home Office. In addition, we provide a checking service for immigration application forms.
We also offer an appeals service, including representation at appeal hearings, by Waltham Forest’s own in-house OISC Level 3 registered immigration caseworker, Luke Rooney. Our fees are set at competitive rates, and in some cases, are one-third of the fees charged by immigration representatives.
On its launch in May 2016, the service was initially unavailable to residents, students and workers within the London borough of Waltham Forest, who have access to free immigration advice from Citizens Advice Waltham Forest’s free immigration advice service, which is funded by Trust For London. However, Waltham Forest residents may now use the fee paying service, if they wish to do so. We are currently witnessing an increase in the number of people, contacting the service, who are anxious to do something, sooner rather than later, about their immigration situation. Our client group includes residents from Birmingham, Plymouth, Essex, Guildford and St Albans. The service also receives telephone calls and email messages from international enquirers, located as far afield as Barbados and EU member states.
The service has successfully assisted its users, undocumented and documented clients, with applications under UK Immigration Rules and under the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006, including where applications may have previously been refused. We are experiencing a rise in the number of applications being refused by the Home Office, particularly where applications are made by EEA family members. Leave granted to clients, include Settlement in the UK, under the Domestic Violence and other routes, Entry Clearance to family members joining their loved ones here, and Leave to Remain outside the Immigration Rules.