A career in immigration law

Introduction

To practice in immigration, asylum or nationality law in the UK, you will need to qualify as a barrister or a solicitor, or be regulated by the Institute of Legal Executives or the Office of the Immigration Servcies Commissioner as described below.

Immigration, asylum and nationality law covers a broad range of work, from asylum cases to business immigration. You should consider carefully what type of work you wish to do.  Immigration, asylum and nationality work is carried out throughout the UK.  If you wish to become a solicitor or a barrister, you should consider carefully whether you wish to wish to practice in England and Wales, in Scotland or in Northern Ireland, as this has implications for your training.  For examples of current vacancies see our jobs page.

If you wish to give legal advice on immigration, asylum or nationality law in England and Wales funded by legal aid as a solicitor, member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives or person regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, you will need to be a member of the Law Society's Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme and to pass accreditation exams as described below.

ILPA strongly recommends that those considering a career in immigration, asylum and nationality law apply for membership of ILPA.  Student membership is available, and there are also special rates for pupil barristers and trainee solicitors.  ILPA membership will give you an opportunity to meet fellow practitioners and learn about their work, and to decide what area of immigration, asylum and nationality law is right for you.  It will also help to ensure that you are up to speed on all the latest developments, both through the materials you receive and by allowing you to attend ILPA training at reduced rates.  Finally, it will provide you with opportunities to help to shape the area of law in which you practice and to work for a just and equitable immigration, asylum and nationality law and practice.

Specialising in immigration as a barrister

To qualify as a barrister involves first an academic stage of training, a law degree or, if you already have a degree in another subject, a postgraduate law conversion course leading to the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). 

A law degree will normally take three years full time and a law conversion course one year full time.  Both can be done part time.

Then you most complete a vocational stage of training, the Bar Professional Training Course.  This takes one year full time or two years part time.  Then you must complete a year of pupillage.

It is possible for solicitors and lawyers qualified in other jurisdictions to convert to being a barrister.

For further information see The Bar Council (England and Wales), The Faculty of Advocates (Scotland), or The Bar Library (Northern Ireland).

You may get an opportuntiy to do some immigration law as part of the academic stage of training.  Or you may wish to do a postgradutate degree in immigration law.  There may be some immigration modules as part of your professional training course. Those interested in immigration law will want to consider barristers chambers that include immigration specialists for their pupillage.

Specialising in immigration as a solicitor

To qualify as a solicitor involves first an academic stage of training, a law degree or, if you already have a degree in another subject, a postgraduate law conversion course leading to the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).  This stage of training is identical for solicitors and barristers, see above.

A solicitor must then do a vocational stage of training, the Legal Practice Course.  This take one year, or two years part time. Then you must complete a two year trainig contract in a solicitor's firm.

It is possible for barristers and lawyers qualified in other jurisdictions to convert to being a solicitor.

For further information see The Solicitors Regulation Authority (England and Wales),  The Law Society of Scotland, or  The Law Society of Northern Ireland.

You may get an opportuntiy to do some immigration law as part of the academic stage of training.  Or you may wish to do a postgradutate degree in immigration law.  There may be some immigration modules as part of your professional training course. Those interested in immigration law will want to consider solicitors' firms that have do immigration work for their training contract.

Specialising in immigration as a member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives

You do not have to have a law degree, or any degree, to become a member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, although if you do have a law degree there is a quicker route to qualification. You will need to undertake an academic stage of training (a diploma) and then undertake qualifying employment: work of a  legal nature under the supervision of a solicitor, senior legal executive, barrister or licensed conveyancer.  Qualifying will take approximately four years part time or two years full time.

For further information see The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives website.

Those interested in immigration law will want to ensure that their qualifying employment is done under the superivsion of a solicitor, barrister or senior legal executive who practises in immigration.

Specialising in immigration by being regulated by by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner

You do not have to have a law degree, or any degree, to give immigration advice regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner.  You will need to pass an examination and meet the standards required by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner.  The timescale for becoming an immigration advisor regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner is generally much quicker than that for becoming a barrister, solicitor, or member of the Institute of Legal Executives.

Individuals and firms or organisations are described as 'registered' with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner or as 'Exempt' from registration.  This is rather confusing as 'exemption' refers to a category of those regulated, those who do not charge a fee for their services.  Those who are truly 'exempt' from 'regulation' are persons such as solicitors, barristers and members of the Institute of Legal Executives.

Unlike solicitors and barristers, who can give advice on area of immigration, asylum and nationality  law, to any level, those regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner can decide which areas of immigration, asylum and nationality law they wish to do, and the level to which they wish to do them.  There are three levels of regulation.  The same levels apply whether you are 'registered' or 'exempt'.  Regulation by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner allows you to give advice on only on the immigration matters for which you are regulated, to the level at which you are regulated. Those working at level three can appear before the Immigration and Asylum chambers of of the Tribunal and those working at levels two and three may be able to join a licensed access scheme that will allow them to instruct a barrister to represent their clients.  OISC registered advisors cannot lodge applications and conduct proceedings 1in the higher courts.

It is possible for solicitors and barristers, whether practising or not, to qualify as OISC regulated advisors.

For more information see the OISC website on how to become an immigration adviser.

Specialising in legal aid work in immigration

If you wish to give free legal advice in immigration in England and Wales, funded by the Legal Services Commission, then unless you are a barrister, you will need to work in a firm or organsiation that has a contract with the Legal Services Commission for immigration and asylum work. In addition, you will need to join the Law Society of England and Wales's Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme (IAAS) and pass accreditation exams.  In Scotland and Northern Ireland,  you will need to ensure that the firm in which you are working is registered to provide advice and representation funded by legal aid.

 Lawyers qualified in other jurisdictions

You will find information on transferring to qualify as a barrister in the UK on the Bar Standards Board website, here and on transferring to qualify as a solicitor on The Law Society's website, here.

 

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