Given that rights of appeal are now limited to human rights claims, and the Immigration Bill could require human rights appellants to leave the UK while their appeal is heard, it is vital that initial applications are framed in such a way as to put them in the best position to succeed. As my colleague Nadia Watson mentioned in her recent blog, the only alternatives where there is refusal are to submit a new application, which can be expensive, or apply for an administrative review, where new evidence to correct minor errors is not allowed.
A good immigration adviser should add value to any application, even if it is only by checking that it has been completed correctly and that the supporting documents are in order, but how can you make sure you're instructing a good adviser ?
Are they regulated?
Regardless of whether they call themselves a solicitor, a lawyer or an adviser , anyone providing immigration advice must be regulated by an appropriate body. This means that they should be regulated by the Law Society of Scotland, the Law Society of England or Wales, the Law Society of Northern Ireland or the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).
It is always worth double checking the relevant regulator's website to make sure that someone is regulated in the way they say they are. For example, I recently assisted a client who had previously been represented by someone claiming to be a regulated adviser but upon further investigation it was apparent that the adviser was not regulated in anyway. The unregulated adviser was committing a criminal offence by providing immigration advice but more critically for our client, they were giving incorrect advice that would have delayed matters further and could have led to that application being unsuccessful.
Regulation is only one part of the puzzle and it is worth researching your potential adviser in more detail.
Awards and rankings
A quick google search should reveal if the firm is considered an expert in the field of immigration. Check Legal 500 and Chambers as they offer objective rankings of firms and often include quotes from previous clients which will give a sense of the client experience and thus a better understanding of what can be expected from them.
If a firm has been nominated for an award you'll likely find details on their website.
What type of applications do they handle?
Immigration is a wide subject area and each type of immigration application has different rules. Some advisers will only handle particular types of cases while others will handle a broad scope.
The easiest way to find out if someone handles your type of application is to check their website. Even if the website mentions your type of case it's worth exploring to see if the adviser blogs or publishes articles as these will give a good indication of the type of work they do. Do not be afraid to ask for details of relevant experience.
Fees are obviously an important factor but they should they be the decisive one? Given how important a visa application is it sometimes pays not to go with the cheapest option but a high fee shouldn't automatically be considered a mark of quality.
Ask for details of what level of support the fee covers and decide if the service offered matches your needs exactly. If the initial fee is high then consider what you can do to reduce it. For example, does it work out cheaper if you utilise the full application service? (as this will often include an initial meeting too). Can a different support service such as a checking service be provided?
Get in touch
If you're still unsure then get in touch with the adviser directly by email or by phone. They should contact you within a reasonable timescale. They won't be able to give you advice without seeing your ID documents but a good adviser should be willing to briefly discuss your case with you, common issues and recent developments and they should be able to explain what they can do to help. If they aren't clear about how they can help you, will their advice be clear and understandable?
You should also ask them for examples, feedback they've received or details of their experience in a particular area. Client confidentiality means they can't give you the names or specific details of previous clients but a good adviser should be able to say if they've handled a similar application and what happened. If they can't, perhaps you should consider why not?
When you are speaking with a potential adviser an important question to ask is "Will you be the one handling the case?" as if you are picking a specialist adviser you will want to make sure you benefit from their experience. You should also ask what back up is available in the event of their not being available to assist such as when they are on holiday.
The final question
Once you've considered all of the above you need to ask yourself one simple question: Do you trust your adviser to provide value for money and deliver the best possible outcome for you?
Even a simple visa application can be a stressful time for someone and if you don't trust that you have the best person working with you, that won't make things any easier. A good adviser should add value to your application, be clear in their advice, transparent in their fees and give you peace of mind.
If you would like to discuss how we can help with your visa application please get in touch.
Morton Fraser is a thriving, top ten Scottish law firm. We handle all types of UK immigration and nationality applications and we assist both businesses and individuals. We blog and tweet about our work on a regular basis.
Our immigration team is ranked as number 1 in Scotland by both the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners. We are specialists in business immigration matters and were the runners up in Immigration Provider of the Year category of the Expatriate Management and Mobility Awards 2015
Stuart McWilliams is listed as Chambers and Partners' Star Associate for Immigration and was shortlisted as the Global Mobility Rising Star 2015 by the Forum for Expatriate Management.