EditorSolicitors Journal

Breaking down barriers

Breaking down barriers

New Law Society Immigration Law Committee chair Sharmila Mehta sets out her vision for the future

Immigration law and policy is a hugely inflammatory subject. It is high on the political agenda ahead of the
7 May election, especially the debate as to whether or not Britain should remain part
of the EU, something the profession and business leaders will be watching closely.

But amid the party political rhetoric, immigration lawyers are busier than ever, helping companies and individuals navigate the complex immigration system that means UK businesses are able to attract highly skilled workers from around the world, from lawyers and medics to Premiership footballers.

Economic growth

The Law Society’s Immigration Law Committee sees its role as ensuring that the interests of our member firms and their clients remain at the forefront, enabling firms to compete globally by engaging talent quickly and effectively.
A flexible and practical immigration system facilitates that, as well as stimulating much-welcomed economic growth.

To this end, the committee
is currently concentrating on several operational issues that are a source of frustration to many practitioners. In particular, we are concerned at the delay in listing tribunal hearings and the cancellation of hearings at very short notice.

We will also be looking to work with the Home Office
to understand its view on the current allocation system for certificates of sponsorship under tier 2 and to chart the progress of the most recent immigration changes – specifically the grant of biometric residence permits
to those applying for leave to enter from overseas.

As chair of the Immigration Law Committee, I will continue to build on our strong historic relationships with key stakeholders including the Home Office, the Migration Advisory Committee, the National Asylum Stakeholder Forum, and the Immigration Minister’s Office.

To date, the committee has had much success in identifying gaps in immigration law, policy, and procedure, and bringing these to the attention of law makers as swiftly as possible.
I want to ensure this success continues, and to fully support the thousands of practitioners who work in the field.

Accreditation scheme

Currently, the committee is advising the Law Society on
the content and scope of a revamped Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme, which will be introduced in early 2016.

We are confident that the new scheme will be of huge benefit to immigration lawyers, and will be one that is in tune with current methods of examining knowledge and ability. This is
an area of the legal profession which routinely deals with sensitive and complex cases, and one which often faces close scrutiny, so it makes sense to have a streamlined and accessible accreditation process, in order to ease the existing burden, and, of course, to recognise the breadth of talent in this area of the law.

While the current accreditation is compulsory
for those seeking to provide
asylum advice under a legal aid contract, the Law Society hopes that the new scheme will also provide a quality mark to help enable private practitioners to confidently demonstrate their levels of expertise and experience.

We are engaging widely
with members to ensure it is a success in ensuring high-quality advice and representation. After all, this is what the profession stands for and what clients deserve. SJ

Sharmila Mehta is chair of the Immigration Law Committee of the Law Society

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