|Image by publik16 via Flickr|
By Ruth Grove-White
These are tough times for immigration lawyers and advisors, as shown by the lively discussion at the annual conference yesterday of the Immigration Advisory Service (IAS), one of the charities giving legal advice and representation to migrants in the UK.
Simon Hughes, Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems, opened the conference, giving a keynote speech about the stance of the coalition government on immigration and asylum. He said that immigration had proven one of the two key issues on which the two parties found it most difficult to find agreement (the other being Trident) - and hinted that the key policies which made it into the coalition manifesto, including a cap on economic migrants, were the source of ongoing debate between the two parties. The Lib Dem regularisation policy - dropped during coalition negotiations but which many including Hughes had been long-term advocates for - has continued to fuel plenty of backstage political analysis and debate as well. Hughes suggested that the tough economic climate to come might give rise to a new set of justifications for a regularisation in a couple of years.
A number of meaty legal issues came up at the IAS conference - including the increasing difficulties of getting, and providing, publicly funded legal advice on immigration and asylum, as a result of changes to legal aid regulations by the Legal Services Commission. The big elephant in the room was of course the recently closed Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ), and there was real debate over whether the hundreds of people whose cases have been left unresolved by the closure of RMJ have been properly handed over to other casework teams.
Other concerns at the conference included the introduction of the new interim cap - reported by lawyers at the conference to have already caused difficulties for many employers who have found their certificates of sponsorship curtailed. There was also lively discussion about the planned introduction of earned citizenship next year - it may have gone quiet under the coalition government, but has it gone away?
There were, however, some developments to celebrate. Two recent court cases - English UK vs the Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) home secretary case and Pankina vs the SSHD - have been successful in challenging some particularly unfair aspects of the Points Based System, and checking the way the government can operate the 'flexibility' of the PBS. See our blog on this for more.
So, as ever, much to worry about - new threats on the horizon will be compounded by the major cuts planned for both home office and ministry of justice budgets which could be as much as 40% of current budgets - but encouraging developments in the courts too, indicating that there may be other challenges to the PBS - and potentially to the new/interim immigration cap being drafted into this system too. Watch this space...