Migrants in the UK live in fear of getting a knock on their door one day and being taken away with no prior warning | Photo: REUTERS
Migrants in the UK live in fear of getting a knock on their door one day and being taken away with no prior warning | Photo: REUTERS

Migrants in the UK could become victims of immigration service providers, who claim they can offer easy ways to obtain legal status. However, in many instances it appears they do little but take advantage of vulnerable people who desperately need help.

A report on Open Democracy, an independent international media platform, finds that some lawyers and other immigration advisers are charging high fees to process application forms for migrants in the UK, which stand little chance of being accepted.

In some instances, the companies involved may know from the beginning that the ultimate decision will be a rejection, but they still get the hopes of migrants who use their services up, charging them sums which they can reportedly barely afford.

A cautionary tale

One case presented by Open Democracy is that of a woman, who was told by a solicitor that she would receive the right to remain because she had a baby. The solicitor reportedly charged her £3,500 (€4,100) to lodge her case under the UK's Human Rights Act.

The Home Office, however, denied the request, and later also denied an appeal. The migrant was still liable to pay the lawyer's fees, and was then offered another supposed avenue to get her right to remain in the country, by submitting a judicial review — for a lawyer's fee of £2,000.

After consulting another lawyer, who said that there was no way she could succeed with the judicial review, the migrant decided not to go ahead with the process. This is when the original solicitor called the Home Office and reported her for staying in the UK without the right to remain. 

"I trusted him because he was a solicitor. We just believed his word. I'm sure this is happening to a lot of people," she told Open Democracy.

Read more: Why do migrants try to come to the United Kingdom?

Quick fix at a steep cost

Catherine Barnard, professor of EU law at the University of Cambridge, told Open Democracy that such practices are increasing across the UK, targeting EU migrants after Britain's departure from the European Union in particular.

These so-called advisers offer "a quick solution, often in their own language." However, many migrants have ended up in greater trouble after seeking immigration advice than they were before. Some even had their passport taken by their advisors, not to be returned unless the applicant paid the full agreed-upon fees.

Other experts in this area seem to agree with that assessment: Jayne Mercer, chief executive of the Community Integration and Advocacy Centre in the northern city of Hull, also said that she had come across hundreds of individuals who'd been defrauded this way in the past two decades.

John Tuckett, the head of the government's Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), recently told the website Free Movement (which specializes in news and advice on migration and legal issues) that he had "never come across an area [in immigration affairs] where criminal activity is so rife."

Read more: How will Brexit affect migrants and refugees?

Lack of regulation

Part of the problem is the ease with which it is possible to become an immigration adviser in the UK. Any solicitor, barrister or qualified immigration adviser is legally allowed to start a business in this field.

This does not mean that they will win your case — only that they can charge you for advice which may or may not help your application. While it may be regarded as unethical to sell advice that is unlikely to help, there is no law against this.

The OISC monitors immigration advisers and polices unregistered individuals, however, cannot stop practitioners from giving advice based on thin evidence. The government body is also reported to be painfully underfunded: Since 2016, only 49 individuals have been convicted for immigration fraud in cases brought by the OISC. 

Some of the migrants who end up being scammed by such unscrupulous organizations were reportedly previous trafficking victims.

Furthermore, migrants cannot seek free and independent advice on migration issues anymore, potentially forcing them more quickly into the arms of legal hawks: The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act of 2012 removed access to legal aid from nearly all immigration cases — except those directly relating to asylum or detention.

Read more: Two categories of refugees under Britain's new law

Next stop: Rwanda?

With many migrants not understanding the legal or immigration system, they prefer to seek help that is presented as professional — only to lose almost everything they have. As applications are complicated and usually require a great deal of documentation and evidence, migrants are often completely left at the mercy of their advisers.

Against the backdrop of the UK's changing immigration system, any unscrupulous immigration advisers might be about to see a climate where they could cash in even more. Both candidates to become the Conservative Party's new leader, and thus the British Prime Minister, have expressed their continuing support of the Rwanda policy.

The UK government has declared that it plans to send asylum seekers and undocumented migrants to Rwanda, even if they have lived illegally in the UK for many years.

Read more: Rwanda deal overshadows Commonwealth meeting in Kigali


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