On Tuesday I spoke on the panel at the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Migration. This was all very new to me, as before this meeting I had no idea about who the APPG was nor what it stood for, never mind the fact that I would be speaking at the Houses of Parliament. My work and passion has always been very much at a grassroots level, working directly with the families I support, so this was a new challenge for me.
I wanted to take part in the meeting because the proposed changes to legal aid for immigration (like other government changes) will have a huge impact on the families my organisation – Al Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre – supports, and indeed given the changes that we have already seen, I think voluntary and community organisations will have no choice but to modify the way we work and involve ourselves a lot more in the drive to influence government proposals.
The messages I conveyed were that voluntary and community organisations cannot and do not have the capacity, time or funds to fill the gap in immigration advice if Legal Aid is withdrawn. It is a very complex field of work that requires specialist advice and is the only area of law that is regulated by the OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner). It is a criminal offence to provide immigration advice unless you are registered with OISC.
It made me feel very proud to be able to represent the women and families I support so thank you to the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), Migrants Rights Network (MRN) and MRCF for their support to help me do this.
What interested me the most about the meeting was, what appeared to be, how little thought the government has given to how the voluntary sector will practically be able to fill the gap in immigration advice? Apart from the obvious points raised regarding legal requirements, how exactly can we fill a gap in an area of law so complex that it requires specialist advice?
I, as an individual (and I am sure my colleagues will back me on this) cannot be expected to be aware of even the more simple immigration rules, as I work with individuals who will bring me issues that run across the scale. Am I expected to know something about every field of work, as well as be able to run a service, provide emotional and practical support, take on casework and liaise with other agencies and government bodies on behalf of my clients? This is an impossible task for any individual and soon enough with the way things are going, we will have no choice but to restrict access to our own services and significantly reduce the support we provide.