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The aim of the research was to:

  1. provide a detailed overview of current immigration legal advice services provided to forced migrants living in Wales
  2. determine how well immigration legal advice provided to forced migrants living in Wales offers adequate and timely support; to include an assessment of:
    • what works well in the provision of immigration legal advice to forced migrants living in Wales, and what gaps exist in this provision (to include mapping the availability of current immigration legal advice services on offer to regular migrants in Wales)
    • what challenges/barriers and/or facilitators exist in the provision of immigration legal advice to forced migrants living in Wales
    • how well immigration legal advice provided to forced migrants living in Wales is offering adequate and timely support to those subject to varying immigration statuses, and those facing particular vulnerabilities, such as migrants that are children, LGBTQ+ and/or disabled
    • the impact of the UK Government’s decision to reform legal aid provision on the availability and adequacy of immigration legal advice provided to forced migrants living in Wales
    • the role of Welsh Government, Local Authorities and public service partners in providing a strategic and co-ordinating lead to ensure sufficient, quality immigration legal advice services to forced migrants living in Wales
  3. propose viable, evidence informed actions/recommendations for future policy development which could improve the immigration legal advice services provided to forced migrants living in Wales and address the gaps identified in this review

The research focuses on ‘forced migrants’. The International Organisation for Migration defines forced migration as “a migratory movement which, although the drivers can be diverse, involves force, compulsion, or coercion” (IOM, 2019).  This is clearly broader than only refugees, asylum seekers and people who are trafficked, although these are generally seen as the core groups. The report applies a broad definition of ‘forced migrants’, including:

  • refugees, whether they applied for asylum in the UK or were resettled, including unaccompanied children, and those admitted via the Afghan evacuation, Ukraine schemes, or the visa scheme for Hong Kong residents with British National Overseas status
  • asylum seekers, including those whose applications have been refused and who want to make a fresh asylum application or an alternative human rights application
  • people granted humanitarian or other international protection
  • victims of trafficking or modern slavery who are not UK nationals
  • non-UK nationals in prisons who potentially face deportation action and wish to resist it
  • victims of domestic violence whose immigration status depends on their relationship in the UK and who are therefore placed into precarious immigration status as a result of abuse, notwithstanding that they may have initially migrated as a matter of choice
  • children and young people who were brought to or born in the UK without immigration status and who therefore live as undocumented people through no choice of their own

In all of these scenarios there is an element of compulsion or coercion, and constrained choice in relation to migratory movements, whether past or potential. People also move between categories so that, for example, a person whose asylum claim is refused may later be eligible to regularise their status based on private or family life or long residence in the UK, needing non-asylum immigration advice to do so. Much of this is outside the scope of legal aid, making it difficult to access advice or casework.

The research brief also requires a mapping of legal advice services available for regular migrants. Given that there is such a small pool of advisers in Wales, meaning that capacity is stretched for all immigration and asylum advice, it is important to take an inclusive view. The report aims to make clear which findings and recommendations relate to which group/s.

It is a criminal offence to offer immigration legal advice in the UK unless regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) or qualified as a solicitor, barrister or legal executive. The OISC framework is divided into two: Asylum and Protection, and Immigration, and advisers may hold one or both accreditations at levels one (basic advice only), two (advice and applications) or three (applications and representation, including appeals). Those wishing to do legal aid work must hold a contract with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), which covers England and Wales. The scope of legal aid is very limited, covering asylum applications and appeals, some domestic violence and trafficking work, separated children’s cases and, subject to an application for Exceptional Case Funding, cases where there is a risk of a breach of protected human rights if a person cannot access legal aid. Almost all non-asylum immigration work is outside the scope of legal aid (unlike in Scotland), so other income sources must be used to fund free advice.

The structure of the report is as follows:

  • section 2 sets out the methodology adopted for the research, outlining the data collection strategies
  • section 3 sets out key findings which emerged from the research
  • section 4 discusses the conclusions, in the form of answers to the detailed research questions posed, and a brief discussion of limitations and further research which might be helpful
  • section 5 details the recommendations for a range of bodies