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Immigration is a topic that dominates both political debate and news coverage, but what have the changes to immigration law in the UK meant for immigration lawyers?
“Since the revision of the points-based system and the changing of the rules relating to non-EU nationals, there continues to be a demand for business immigration lawyers to handle complex and often business-critical visa issues,” comments Amy Hambleton, a director at RedLaw Recruitment.
“The Government has stated that it’s trying to increase inward investment to the UK, but with the surge in red tape affecting immigration matters the demand for lawyers able to handle investor, entrepreneur and associated employee visas continues.”
Business as usual
As for the legal market per se, business immigration is still the area in which recruiters are seeing most activity, says Nick Smetana, a senior consultant at Taylor Root.
“Business immigration is still the busiest area at the moment, with a shortage of top-quality candidates in the market and rival firms often competing for the same people,” he says.
“Boutique immigration practices still lead the way, but corporate immigration is a growing area for firms that want to be able to provide a full service to their key international clients.”
Hambleton says: “While boutique practices continue to have high demand for specialists, the increased competition from larger firms is giving immigration lawyers a wider employment pool to fish in.”
Boutiques are also starting to look at different ways to make their immigration expertise transferable to other areas, points out Hambleton.
“Immigration is an obvious specialism that provides a vital service to corporate and individual clients without having to refer work out,” she says. “The difficulty in establishing a greenfield immigration practice is that a firm will not have fast-track application slots with the Home Office, thus keeping the available options for lawyers [is] more limited than in other specialisms.
“Despite this, an increased number of firms are willing to make a long-term investment in this area to grow an immigration capability.”
With regard to lawyers looking to get into the immigration sphere, they don’t necessarily have to have direct experience in the field, notes Smetana.
“If you have no previous immigration experience, then employment law experience at a corporate firm is the next best thing,” he says.
Further up the food chain, Hambleton adds that experience of working with the Home Office is highly sought-after.
“For lawyers, a strong training in a reputable immigration practice is key,” she says. “A clear understanding of changes to the immigration rules and ideally a record of liaising with
the Home Office while handling visa applications will be highly prized.”