Guide to Choosing the Best Immigration Lawyer


The UK immigration system is complex, comprising numerous visa routes, entry and residency requirements and compliance obligations. This makes finding the right immigration lawyer crucial for anyone looking to live, work, or study in the UK.

The UK immigration law market is large and complex, shaped by frequent policy changes and procedural reforms with a range of different types of immigration legal advisers and services on offer. The challenge will be choosing the right adviser for your needs.

This guide is an essential resource for anyone looking to hire an immigration lawyer. We provide an overview of the UK immigration legal market, with practical information and tips about how to find and choose the best legal partner for your immigration journey.


Section A: Understanding UK Immigration Law


To understand the UK’s current position on immigration, it helps to look back to its past policies, rules and approaches, which together have shaped the system that operates today.


1. Brief History of UK Immigration Law


The history of UK immigration law is marked by periods of openness and restriction. The first comprehensive immigration legislation was the Aliens Act of 1905, primarily aimed at regulating the influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe.

After World War II, the British Nationality Act of 1948 allowed citizens of Commonwealth nations to move freely to the UK. This period of relative openness ended with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962, introducing stricter controls.

In 1971, the Immigration Act established the framework for modern UK immigration policy, introducing concepts like “patriality,” giving preferential treatment to those with British ancestry. The Immigration Act 1988 further limited the rights of Commonwealth citizens. More recent changes, particularly since the early 2000s, have focused on managing immigration levels and integrating EU laws, with significant impacts from Brexit and the points-based immigration system.


2. Key Recent Changes


A defining characteristic of the UK’s modern approach to immigration is the frequent changes in rules and policy. The following are among the most significant recent changes in UK immigration:


a. Points-Based System (PBS): Introduced in 2008 and overhauled after Brexit, the PBS regulates skilled workers, students, and intra-company transfers. Key visa categories include Skilled Worker, Health and Care Worker, and Global Talent.

b. Brexit and EU Settlement Scheme: After the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the EU Settlement Scheme was created to allow EU citizens living in the UK before Brexit to secure their residency rights.

c. Nationality and Borders Act 2022: The act introduced new rules for asylum seekers, including offshore processing and faster removals for failed applicants. It also criminalised unauthorised arrivals.

d. Changes in Sponsorship Requirements: Recent changes have tightened requirements for companies sponsoring skilled workers and improved compliance mechanisms.

e. Hong Kong BN(O) Visa: In response to political changes in Hong Kong, the UK introduced a visa pathway for British National (Overseas) passport holders.


3. Compliance with Immigration Laws


Frequent changes in rules and policy have created a climate of uncertainty for foreign nationals and UK employers of foreign national workers, who must stay up to date and comply with the latest requirements.

For businesses, non-compliance can result in significant penalties and loss of sponsorship licenses. For individuals, the severity of the consequences depends on the nature of the breach. Minor breaches like forgetting to renew a visa on time might be dealt with a fine, while serious breaches like working illegally could lead to deportation.

In light of this shifting framework and the importance of compliance, professional legal advice has become critical to avoid immigration issues.


Section B: Why You Need an Immigration Lawyer


Immigration lawyers offer legal advice and support services to help individuals and organisations navigate the UK immigration system.

They provide tailored guidance to understand the relevant rules and requirements and deliver practical support with tasks such as completing application forms, reducing the risk of rejection or appeal and helping to avoid costly mistakes.

They are also instrumental in dealing with more complex matters such as immigration appeals, resolving issues in relation to immigration status, deportation defence and citizenship issues.

The consequences of misunderstanding immigration requirements can be severe. Simple errors or omissions in documentation can lead to visa refusals, delays, or even bans from reapplying. In the limited circumstances where appeals are available, the procedures are complex and require a thorough understanding of legal procedures and the ability to present a compelling case.

Choosing a qualified and experienced immigration lawyer ensures that your case is handled with expertise, giving you the best chance of success in an often challenging legal environment.


1. Advantages of Hiring a Specialist Lawyer


a. Expert Guidance: Specialist immigration lawyers are well-versed in the latest immigration laws and regulations. They can assess your eligibility and recommend the most suitable visa options.

b. Streamlined Documentation: They assist in gathering and preparing the necessary documents, ensuring that your application is complete and accurate.

c. Minimise Errors: By understanding the intricacies of each application, lawyers can help minimise errors that often lead to refusals.

d. Appeals and Judicial Reviews: In the event of a visa refusal, specialist lawyers can represent you in appeals and judicial reviews, increasing your chances of a successful outcome.

e. Strategic Advice: Lawyers can provide tailored advice on how to improve your application’s chances, such as securing sponsorships or enhancing eligibility.


2. Key Services Provided by Immigration Lawyers


For applicants, hiring a specialist immigration lawyer can help to simplify the application process, ensure the required application standards are met, leading to the best possible outcome. They are also pivotal in alleviating the stress that comes with making an immigration application.

Immigration lawyers bring expertise and experience in matters such as:

a. Work Visa Applications: Securing Skilled Worker visas, Health and Care Worker visas, and Global Mobility visas requires sponsorship and careful adherence to points-based criteria.

b. Family Visas: Navigating the eligibility requirements for spouse, partner, and child visas can be challenging, especially for international couples.

c. Visitor Visas: Advising on tourist, business, and family visitor visa applications to avoid issues at the border.

d. Student Visas: Helping students meet the requirements for Tier 4 Student Visas, including CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) and maintenance funds.

c. Appeals and Judicial Reviews: When visa applications are refused, lawyers can assist in preparing strong appeals or judicial review cases, increasing the likelihood of overturning refusals.

d. Business Immigration: Corporate immigration lawyers help employers navigate the complexities involved with employing foreign workers, including legal assistance to obtain and maintain sponsorship licences while ensuring businesses comply with Home Office regulations to avoid fines and licence revocation.

e. Asylum and Humanitarian Protection: Asylum seekers face stringent scrutiny. Lawyers can help gather evidence, prepare personal statements, and represent clients at asylum interviews.

f. Settlement and Citizenship Applications: Applying for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or citizenship requires a deep understanding of eligibility criteria, residency requirements, and documentation standards.


Section C: Types of Immigration Lawyers in the UK


The UK legal market offers a range of different types of immigration advisers, varying by levels of experience and the types of services they can offer.

The following overview will help you decide which type of adviser is best suited to your needs:


1. Corporate Immigration Lawyers


Corporate immigration lawyers specialise in assisting businesses and organisations with their immigration needs. They guide companies through the process of hiring and sponsoring skilled foreign workers. Key services include obtaining and maintaining sponsorship licenses, advising on the points-based system, and ensuring compliance with Home Office regulations. They also handle intra-company transfers, global mobility strategies, and Tier 1 investor and entrepreneur visas.


2. Personal Immigration Lawyers


Personal immigration lawyers cater to individuals seeking to live, work, or study in the UK. They handle various visa applications, such as family visas (spouse, partner, child), student visas, and skilled worker visas. They also assist with applications for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and British citizenship. Personal immigration lawyers provide tailored advice to meet unique personal circumstances, ensuring that each client’s application is comprehensive and accurate.


3. Asylum and Refugee Specialists


Asylum and refugee specialists focus on representing individuals fleeing persecution or conflict. They are well-versed in international human rights laws and the UK’s asylum process. Their services include preparing asylum applications, gathering evidence to support claims, representing clients at asylum interviews, and handling appeals and judicial reviews in case of refusals. They also assist with applications for humanitarian protection and other forms of international protection.


4. OISC Advisers


In the UK, some immigration advisers are regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), a body that ensures that individuals and firms providing immigration advice operate to high professional and ethical standards.

The OISC is tasked with licensing advisers – requiring all registered immigration advisers to follow a strict Code of Standards – maintaining standards, and handling complaints against non-compliant practitioners.

The OISC divides immigration advisers into three levels based on their expertise:


a. Level 1 (Initial Advice): Advisers provide basic immigration advice, assist with simple visa applications, and offer support in filling out forms.

b. Level 2 (Casework): Advisers handle more complex cases, such as appeals to the First-tier Tribunal and family visa applications.

c. Level 3 (Advocacy and Representation): The highest accreditation level, allowing advisers to represent clients at all Tribunal hearings and provide comprehensive immigration advice.


OISC advisers are not qualified solicitors. Choosing between an OISC adviser and an immigration solicitor depends on the complexity of your case and the level of representation needed.


5. Differences Between OISC Advisers and Immigration Solicitors


Both OISC advisers and immigration solicitors provide immigration advice, but there are significant differences between them in terms of regulation, qualifications, services, and representation.


a. Regulatory Bodies

OISC advisers are regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), an independent body that licences, monitors, and disciplines immigration advisers, while immigration solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which oversees solicitors across all fields of law, including immigration.


b. Qualification Requirements

OISC advisers do not need a law degree but must pass specific exams and training programmes.

They are accredited by the OISC at one of three levels based on their expertise. Level 1 advisers provide basic advice and assist with visa applications, Level 2 advisers handle more complex cases like appeals, and Level 3 advisers can offer comprehensive advice and representation at tribunal hearings.

Immigration solicitors, on the other hand, must hold either a law degree or an equivalent conversion course, complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC), and undertake a training contract. This qualifies them to practice law in various fields, including immigration. They may also obtain additional accreditations, such as the Law Society’s Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme.


c. Scope of Services

OISC advisers can only offer immigration advice within their accredited level. For instance, Level 1 advisers are limited to initial advice and visa applications, while Level 3 advisers can represent clients at all tribunal levels. However, they cannot provide legal services in other areas of law.

Immigration solicitors can offer comprehensive legal services across various fields of law, including immigration. They can represent clients in all immigration tribunals and courts, as well as provide legal advice on related matters like employment or family law. Solicitor-advocates can represent clients in higher courts, including the High Court and Court of Appeal.


d. Legal Representation

OISC advisers have restrictions on legal representation based on their accreditation level. Level 1 advisers cannot represent clients at tribunals, Level 2 advisers can represent clients in the First-tier Tribunal, and Level 3 advisers can represent clients at all levels of the immigration tribunal system.

Immigration solicitors, however, can represent clients in all immigration tribunals and courts. Their ability to represent clients in higher courts provides an advantage in cases requiring appeals or judicial reviews.


e. Code of Conduct and Standards

OISC advisers must adhere to the OISC Code of Standards, which emphasises ethical practices and client interests. The OISC also handles complaints and ensures that advisers maintain high professional standards.

Immigration solicitors must follow the SRA Code of Conduct and other professional standards set by the Law Society. These standards require solicitors to act in their clients’ best interests, provide clear fee structures, and maintain confidentiality.


f. OISC or Solicitor – Which Should you Choose?

OISC advisers offer specialised immigration advice that is suitable for routine immigration applications. They must operate within their accredited level, ensuring clients receive accurate and ethical advice.

On the other hand, immigration solicitors with broader qualifications and experience can handle complex immigration cases and represent clients in higher courts. Their cross-disciplinary expertise makes them ideal for cases requiring comprehensive legal representation.

Ultimately, choosing between an OISC adviser and an immigration solicitor depends on the complexity of your case and the level of representation required.


Section D: How to Choose the Right Immigration Lawyer For You


The UK market for immigration legal advice is vast, which can make it daunting to know how to find an immigration lawyer.

The best place to start is usually to research online. Use the following criteria to help compare advisers:


1. Credentials and Experience


Immigration lawyers in the UK must be accredited by either the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) or the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The OISC oversees licensed immigration advisers and ensures they meet stringent competence standards. They classify advisors into three levels, with Level 3 representing the highest proficiency.

The SRA regulates solicitors and law firms, ensuring high ethical and professional standards. Solicitors specialising in immigration law often belong to the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), indicating expertise.

When selecting an immigration lawyer, start by verifying their accreditation through the OISC or SRA websites. Additionally, consider their professional memberships, such as those with the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) or the Law Society. Genuine client testimonials and reviews can provide valuable insights into their service quality, and it’s important to check for any disciplinary actions through regulatory bodies to ensure a clean record.


2. Specialism


When researching legal advisers, consider their stated specialism and ask whether this matches the type of help that you need?

For example, corporate immigration lawyers specialise in work visas and business immigration compliance, while personal immigration lawyers focus on family reunification, student visas, and other individual needs.

If you’re seeking asylum, opt for lawyers with experience in this niche.


3. Client Reviews and Testimonials


When interpreting client feedback, look for consistency in positive reviews across different clients and services, as this indicates reliability. Real-life success stories that closely mirror your own situation can offer valuable insight into the lawyer’s competence. Additionally, prioritise reviews that provide detailed information about specific interactions or outcomes, as these tend to be more trustworthy.

Third-party review platforms also play a crucial role in evaluating immigration lawyers. Sites like Trustpilot and Google Reviews offer a broad spectrum of client feedback, while legal directories such as Chambers and Partners, The Legal 500, and Lexcel provide independent rankings and comprehensive reviews to help you make an informed decision.


4. Initial Consultation


During an initial consultation, expect the lawyer to assess your case and suggest potential solutions. They will outline a possible legal strategy, including the expected timeline while providing a transparent overview of fees and associated costs.

Use the consultation as an opportunity to ask questions about their experience and qualifications, for example:


a. Are you accredited by OISC/SRA, and at what level?

b. Have you handled cases similar to mine before?

c. How often do you win appeals or reviews?

d. What is your fee structure, and are there any additional costs?

e. What strategy do you propose for my case?


5. Fee Structure and Costs


Understanding different fee structures is crucial when hiring an immigration lawyer. Hourly fees are billed based on the time spent on your case, so it’s important to have clarity on the hourly rates and potential costs. Fixed fees, often used for specific services like visa applications or appeals, offer a more predictable cost structure. Although rare in immigration law, contingency fees can sometimes apply to complex cases.

To get a clear financial picture, request a comprehensive estimate that includes all costs, such as government fees. Additionally, inquire if the firm provides flexible payment plans or instalment options.


Section E: Common Misconceptions about Immigration Lawyers


Before making a decision about who to hire as your immigration lawyer, check these common misconceptions and the realities behind them to ensure you’re working with the facts rather than myths.


Myth 1: You Don’t Need an Immigration Lawyer if Your Case Is Simple

Even seemingly straightforward cases can become complicated due to evolving immigration laws and strict documentation requirements. An immigration lawyer ensures accurate, complete applications and helps avoid costly mistakes that could lead to delays or refusals.


Myth 2: Immigration Lawyers Are Too Expensive

While some lawyers charge high fees, many offer flexible pricing structures, including fixed fees or payment plans. The investment in professional legal assistance can save you from expensive mistakes and provide peace of mind throughout the process.


Myth 3: Any Lawyer Can Handle Immigration Cases

Immigration law is a specialised field that requires deep knowledge and experience. Only seek help from lawyers accredited by the OISC or regulated by the SRA with specific expertise in immigration law.


Myth 4: Immigration Lawyers Guarantee Visa Approval

No lawyer can guarantee visa approval. An immigration lawyer provides strategic advice, minimises errors, and strengthens your application, significantly increasing the chances of a positive outcome, but decisions remain at the discretion of the Home Office.


Myth 5: Immigration Lawyers Only Handle Deportation Cases

Immigration lawyers handle a wide range of cases, including visa applications (work, family, student), asylum claims, business immigration, appeals, and citizenship applications. Their expertise is beneficial for all immigration matters.


Myth 6: Online Resources Provide the Same Information as a Lawyer

While online resources can be helpful, they may not offer accurate or up-to-date advice for your specific situation. An immigration lawyer provides personalised guidance tailored to your unique circumstances and keeps you compliant with changing laws.


Myth 7: You Only Need a Lawyer If Your Application is Refused

An immigration lawyer’s involvement from the start improves your application’s chances of success. Early legal assistance can prevent refusals and avoid the need for costly appeals or judicial reviews.


Section F: Summary


Choosing the right immigration lawyer is critical to successfully navigating the complexities of the UK immigration system. A knowledgeable and experienced lawyer can provide expert guidance, minimise errors, and offer strategic solutions tailored to your unique situation. By conducting thorough research, verifying credentials, and seeking client feedback, you can identify the best specialist to handle your case.

Take advantage of initial consultations to evaluate potential lawyers and ensure their expertise aligns with your needs. Investing time in finding the right legal partner will increase your chances of a positive outcome.

Start your search today and secure a consultation with a reputable immigration lawyer who can help you achieve your immigration goals efficiently and confidently.


Section G: FAQs about Immigration Lawyers


What does an immigration lawyer do?

An immigration lawyer assists clients with visa applications, appeals, asylum claims, citizenship applications, and business immigration matters. They provide tailored legal advice, represent clients in tribunals, and ensure compliance with UK immigration laws.


How can an immigration lawyer help with visa applications?

They guide applicants through the visa process by ensuring that all forms are accurately completed, required documents are provided, and eligibility criteria are met. They also help in selecting the most appropriate visa category and preparing strong application submissions.


How do I find a qualified immigration lawyer?

Look for lawyers accredited by the OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) or regulated by the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority). Verify their credentials through professional associations like the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA).


What should I expect in an initial consultation with an immigration lawyer?

During the consultation, the lawyer will assess your case, explain possible options and strategies, provide a fee estimate, and answer any questions you have. This session is usually used to determine if they are the right fit for your needs.


Can an immigration lawyer guarantee a successful visa application?

No lawyer can guarantee success, as visa decisions are made by the Home Office. However, an immigration lawyer increases your chances of approval by providing expert advice, minimising errors, and strengthening your application.


How much do immigration lawyers charge in the UK?

Fees vary based on the complexity of the case and the lawyer’s experience. They may charge hourly rates, fixed fees, or offer payment plans. Expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand pounds, depending on the service.


Do immigration lawyers only handle visa applications?

No, they also assist with appeals, asylum claims, deportation defence, immigration compliance, settlement and citizenship applications.


Can I change my immigration lawyer if I’m not satisfied?

Yes, you can change your immigration lawyer at any time if you’re not satisfied with their services. Ensure that your new lawyer has all relevant documentation to continue your case seamlessly.


What are some red flags to watch out for when choosing an immigration lawyer?

Be cautious if the lawyer guarantees visa approval, lacks OISC or SRA accreditation, has poor or inconsistent client reviews, or requires you to sign up without proper consultation or fails to provide a clear fee structure.


Section H: Glossary of UK Immigration Terms


Administrative Review: A process where an applicant requests the Home Office to review its decision after a visa refusal based on an alleged casework error.

Asylum: Protection granted to individuals who have fled persecution in their home country and meet the criteria for refugee status.

Biometric Residence Permit (BRP): An identity document issued to foreign nationals in the UK containing personal details, visa type, and immigration status.

British National (Overseas) Visa (BN(O)): A visa category introduced for eligible Hong Kong citizens to live and work in the UK.

Citizenship Application: A formal request to become a British citizen, usually through naturalisation or registration.

Deportation: The process of legally removing a person from the UK due to violations of immigration laws.

Discretionary Leave: A form of temporary leave granted to individuals who do not meet the criteria for asylum but have compelling reasons to remain in the UK.

EU Settlement Scheme: A system allowing EU citizens and their families who were living in the UK before Brexit to secure their residency status.

Global Talent Visa: A visa category for individuals recognised as leaders or potential leaders in their field.

Home Office: The UK government department responsible for immigration, security, and law and order.

Humanitarian Protection: Protection granted to individuals who do not qualify for asylum but face serious harm if returned to their home country.

Immigration Appeals Tribunal (IAT): An independent tribunal that hears appeals against Home Office immigration decisions.

Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): Permanent residency status allowing individuals to live and work in the UK without time restrictions.

Judicial Review: A legal process where a court reviews the legality of a public body’s decision, such as a visa refusal by the Home Office.

Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC): Regulatory body overseeing immigration advisors and ensuring they meet professional standards.

Points-Based System (PBS): An immigration framework regulating visas based on qualifications, experience, and job offers. Key categories include Skilled Worker, Health and Care Worker, and Global Talent.

Refugee Status: Granted to individuals who meet the definition of a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Right of Abode: The right to live or work in the UK without any immigration restrictions.

Skilled Worker Visa: A visa category for skilled workers with a job offer from a UK employer holding a valid sponsorship license.

Sponsorship Licence: A permit that allows UK employers to hire skilled foreign workers under the points-based system.

Student Visa: A visa category allowing international students to study in the UK, now replaced by the Student Visa.

Visa Refusal: A decision by the Home Office to reject a visa application due to eligibility or documentation issues.

Windrush Scheme: A UK government programme aimed at providing support and documentation to members of the Windrush Generation affected by wrongful immigration status changes.


Section I: Additional Resources


UK Government Immigration and Visas Information
Provides comprehensive information on visa categories, requirements, and the application process.


Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC)
The official regulatory body for immigration advisers in the UK.


Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)
Regulates solicitors and law firms, including those providing immigration services.


Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA)
A membership organisation promoting and improving immigration law practice.


The Law Society
Offers a directory of accredited immigration solicitors.


Home Office Immigration and Nationality Forms
Direct access to official immigration forms and applications.


Refugee Council
Support and advice for asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.


Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)
Campaigning and legal support organisation for immigrants’ rights.


EU Settlement Scheme Guidance
Official guidance for EU citizens and their families applying for settled status in the UK.




Guide to Choosing the Best Immigration Lawyer 1

Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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