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Introduction to the methodology

The approach to this piece of research builds on that used for earlier research which focused on immigration and asylum legal advice across the whole UK and on the immigration legal aid market in England and Wales (Wilding, 2022). It relies on thematic analysis of a variety of data sets, as set out below.

Advice and support organisation interviews

21 semi-structured interviews were undertaken with representatives of:

  1. legal aid providers, barristers, and practitioner representatives
  2. non-legal aid (accredited) advice organisations
  3. refugee and migrant support organisations which do not give advice but regularly work with, signpost or refer advice users, including Migrant Help
  4. local authorities and the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership
  5. MPs and MPs’ caseworkers

The prospective interviewees were selected because of their roles within the immigration and asylum advice sector, with a view to obtaining a geographical spread of organisations across Wales and organisations with a range of specialisms. There was some snowball sampling as one interviewee recommended another person that should be spoken to. These interviews were conducted via Microsoft Teams or phone, following interview topic guides which were designed to ensure all key areas of enquiry were covered, with scope to explore the interviewee’s particular expertise or experience. Five interviews were with 2 or 3 individuals from the same organisation. Interviews lasted 30 to 90 minutes but the majority were approximately one hour.

In addition there were 2 group discussions, held remotely. The first was facilitated by the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership (WSMP), attended by t10 representatives from organisations including local authorities, advice organisations and support groups. The second was facilitated by the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Champions Network, attended by 6 representatives of organisations working in north Wales and supporting people with no recourse to public funds because of their immigration status, mainly survivors of domestic violence.

Advice provider data collection

In addition, detailed data was collected from three legal advice providers in Wales about demand for their services. This included an initial record of their existing caseload, including the number of legal aid and other files open and a breakdown of case types. They were then asked to record, over a four week period from February to April 2022, all new enquiries they received, noting the kind of work, funding type, referral source (if any), client’s approximate location, whether the case was taken on and, if so, the date of first appointment or, if not, the reason why not. These providers were paid an hourly rate for collating the data, since it required a significant time commitment.

Advice user interviews

18 semi-structured interviews were carried out with advice users in Wales. All of the interviews were facilitated through ‘gatekeeper’ organisations which offer advice or other support to forced migrants, who passed on information about the research. Ten of the interviews were conducted by phone, or via a digital platform (paying for data costs where needed) and 8 were face-to-face in a centre which offers a variety of activities and services for refugees and asylum seekers. Interpretation was available (remotely) when required and respondents were compensated for their time and expertise.

The interviews focused on the advice user’s views on the accessibility of advice, on what they considered good and bad about their experiences, and what would have improved the experience for them. Key issues were set out in an interview topic guide, with scope to explore what was important or significant for each individual interviewee. The interviews ranged in length from 10 minutes to 90 minutes, averaging 45 to 60 minutes, with the shortest interview being one where the person was still seeking immigration advice. Despite the limited information, this was useful because it gave an indication of how long people wait to see a legal adviser for the first time, and the obstacles to doing so.

In addition, there was a 2-hour group discussion arranged by a support organisation, with around 10 attendees, of whom 6 shared experiences. This offered the opportunity to share some information about access to immigration advice in Wales and also served to build trust with participants, several of whom then arranged one-to-one interviews to discuss their experiences.

The advice user interviewees comprised seven men and 12 women (one interview was with a couple), from 15 different countries, including 8 from the Middle East and North Africa, 8 from Sub-Saharan Africa, 1 from Ukraine and one from Central America. There were 5 interviewees in the 21 to 30 age range; 4 aged 31 to 40; 6 aged 41 to 50; and 3 aged 51 to 60. Interviewees’ locations in Wales largely reflected the main dispersal areas, with 5 in Cardiff, 8 in Newport, 2 in Swansea, 1 in Wrexham, one elsewhere in south Wales and 1 who was previously accommodated in Penally Barracks.

It was decided it would not be appropriate to interview current unaccompanied migrant children as part of this research. They are already subject to a large number of mandatory interviews as part of their asylum process and as looked-after children. It is difficult for them to fully understand the difference between a mandatory interview and a voluntary one, or to understand that the interview is not relevant to their immigration or asylum case. Instead the research drew on the experiences of adults in support roles.

All interviews were conducted according to similar ethical protocols as would apply to academic studies. Every effort was made to ensure respondents were fully informed about the project, the purpose, the client and topics; that their participation was voluntary; that they could pause or stop the interview at any time; and that they need not discuss topics which they did not wish to. Recruiting through gatekeeper organisations supports this, since many have protocols about asking their users to participate in research, and they were also able to support with ensuring consent was fully informed. The group discussion also enabled some of the interviewees to meet and observe the researcher before deciding whether to contact them to arrange an interview. Recruiting interviewees via ‘gatekeeper’ organisations means they can alert the interviewer to any known vulnerabilities or distress triggers, and also enables arrangements for post-interview support to be made if required, if the interviewee shows any signs of distress.

Tribunal case lists

There is one hearing centre of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Tribunal in Wales, namely Columbus House in Newport. Examining the work of this hearing centre gives an indication of the volume and nature of appeals work being undertaken in Wales and therefore offers an additional point of reference to the evidence on need and provision.

The daily list of hearings for all centres is published on the GOV.UK website. There is no published archive of these, so they can only be obtained by downloading them from the website on the day in question. This report analyses a sample of 40 sitting days from January to April 2022. They are largely but not quite consecutive, as there were occasional days when the list was not published due to administrative error, and the researcher was on leave for one week. The lists contain information including the appeal reference, name of the representative firm, if any, and the language of any interpreter. The appeal reference indicates whether the case is an asylum or humanitarian protection appeal (PA), deportation appeal (DA), human rights appeal (HU), immigration appeal (IA), or a bail application, which has a different reference format.

There are limitations to the data. The name of the representative firm makes it possible to see how many people are represented by firms with or without a legal aid contract, and how many are unrepresented in the various appeal categories. The mere fact that a representative has a legal aid contract does not mean the particular client is receiving legal aid, particularly in non-asylum appeals. Not all appeals in the Newport hearing centre concern an appellant who lives in Wales, since the centre serves the South West of England as well, while appeals from appellants in northern Wales are usually assigned to the Manchester hearing centre. Nevertheless, it gives some indication of the amount and type of hearings and the extent of unrepresentation, by category, as a supplement to the other data sources.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and published data, literature and reports

FOI data was obtained on the overall Tribunal receipts and disposals and on peer review scores of legal aid providers through FOI requests. This supplemented FOI data obtained in earlier research (Wilding, 2021, 2022), including the number of legal aid cases opened by each provider office and statistics indicating the extent of need for immigration legal advice.

Literature and relevant reports were reviewed, which are referenced throughout. In particular, several organisations’ responses to the Commission for Justice call for evidence in 2018 were reviewed, where relevant to immigration advice in Wales. These offer useful context and detail about access to legal advice from a range of perspectives.

Relevant published statistics include the number of accredited advisers on the Law Society’s register of solicitors and caseworkers holding the Immigration and Asylum Law Accreditation, which is required for all staff doing legal aid work, and the number of barristers practising immigration law in Wales. Citizens Advice also publishes data on the number of enquiries in different categories, which can be filtered by geographical area, on its Tableau site.


Thematic analysis was used to identify patterns and issues arising in the data, taking the research questions as the primary analytical framework, but also seeking to identify other issues emerging. The range of data sources helps to assure the quality and validity of this analysis.