Guidance

How to become a regulated immigration adviser

Updated 30 August 2016

If you’re already an immigration adviser, read about regulations that immigration advisers must follow.

1. Immigration advisers

Immigration advisers provide advice and services mainly on:

  • claims for asylum
  • applications for entry clearance or leave to enter or remain in the UK
  • immigration employment documents
  • nationality
  • citizenship
  • residence
  • deportation or removal
  • bail applications and appeals against deportation

It is a criminal offence for a person to provide immigration advice or services in the UK unless their organisation is regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) or is otherwise covered by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Members of certain professional bodies may give immigration advice without registering with OISC.

These include:

  • General Council of the Bar
  • Law Society of England and Wales
  • Chartered Institute of Legal Executives
  • Faculty of Advocates
  • Law Society of Scotland
  • General Council of the Bar of Northern Ireland
  • Law Society of Northern Ireland

1.1 Fitness and competence

Fitness

An individual or organisation will be considered ‘fit’ to provide immigration advice and/or services if they can sufficiently demonstrate to the Immigration Services Commissioner that there is:

  • the likelihood of compliance with OISC’s regulatory scheme
  • a history of honesty and legal compliance
  • a history of financial probity

The commissioner’s guidance on fitness for advisers and guidance on fitness for owners explains how a person can demonstrate that they meet the requirement of fitness and how he will assess this.

The commissioner provides guidance on the approach taken to advisers and applicant advisers that have a criminal conviction(s).

Competence

An individual or organisation will be considered competent to provide immigration advice or services if they can sufficiently demonstrate to the commissioner the necessary knowledge and skills required to meet the needs of clients seeking immigration advice or services at a specified advice level and category. This includes an organisation’s capability to act competently in the manner in which it operates its business.

The commissioner recognises 3 distinct advice levels of competence. Details of these levels, the work permitted at each level and the relevant knowledge and skills required are set out in the commissioner’s guidance on competence.

2. Immigration advice

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, as amended, defines ‘immigration advice’ (section 82) as advice relating to a particular individual given in connection with one or more ‘relevant matters’ by a person who knows that he is giving such advice.

This does not include advice given in connection with representing an individual before a court in criminal proceedings or matters ancillary to criminal proceedings.

‘Relevant matters’ are defined in the the act as including:

  1. a. a claim for asylum
  2. b. an application for:
    1. i. or for the variation of, entry clearance or leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom
    2. ii. an immigration employment document
  3. c. unlawful entry into the United Kingdom
  4. d. nationality and citizenship under the law of the United Kingdom
  5. e. citizenship of the European Union
  6. f. admission to member states under community law
  7. g. residence in a member state in accordance with rights conferred by or under community law
  8. h. removal or deportation from the United Kingdom
  9. i. an application for bail under the Immigration Act or under the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997
  10. j. an appeal against, or an application for judicial review in relation to any decision taken in connection with a matter referred to in paragraphs (a) to (i)

The 1999 act defines ‘immigration services’ as the making of representations, in connection with one or more relevant matters, on behalf of a particular individual either in:

  1. a. civil proceedings before a court, tribunal or adjudicator in the United Kingdom
  2. b. in correspondence with a Minister of the Crown or government department

Such services are regulated when provided in the course of business, whether or not done for profit. This includes occasional help offered to members of a community. Organisations that undertake these activities as an ancillary service to their main business (for example, colleges assisting students to apply for visas) still need to be regulated by OISC.

Second tier advice is advice given by one advice service to another. If you only provide second-tier advice or signpost clients to other advisers, you do not need to apply for regulation by OISC.

The commissioner’s clarification on the OISC’s jurisdiction provides further guidance on ‘relevant matters’.

3. Check if you need to apply for registration

If you wish to provide immigration advice or services, you must apply for registration with OISC.

Section 84 (1) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (‘the act’) prohibits the provision of immigration advice or services other than by a ‘qualified person’.

The act states that a person is a qualified person if he or she is:

  1. a. a registered person with OISC within the UK
  2. b. authorised by a designated professional body to practise as a member of the profession whose members that body regulates
  3. c. the equivalent in a European Economic Area (EEA) state of:
    1. i. a registered person
    2. ii. a person within paragraph 2
  4. d. a person permitted, by virtue of exemption from a prohibition, to provide EEA state advice or services equivalent to immigration advice or services
  5. e. acting on behalf of, and under the supervision of, a person within any of paragraphs a to d (whether or not under a contract of employment)

Most voluntary and community organisations and most businesses that offer immigration advice or services in the UK need to apply to OISC for registration.

Operating an immigration advice service where work is checked by a solicitor or barrister is not sufficient to satisfy paragraph e. If you are working with a solicitor or barrister the relevant professional body itself must regulate the work. Further, solicitors or barristers assisting unregulated advisers to practise in this way may be acting in breach of Solicitors Regulation Authority or Bar Standards Board Rules.

The OISC provides further information on the OISC’s regulatory jurisdiction and solicitors.

If you need any further help or clarification, please contact OISC on 0345 000 0046 or email: info@oisc.gov.uk.

3.1 Local authority nationality and settlement checking services

If you are a local authority nationality and settlement checking service and only provide immigration advice and services as agreed between the Home Office and the Local Government Association, you need to apply using these forms.

3.2 Ministerial exemptions

The Statutory Instrument 2009 Number 506 is cited as the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (Part V Exemption: Licenced Sponsors Tiers 2 and 4) Order 2009.

It exempts licenced sponsors who have been granted a sponsor licence under Tiers 2 or 4 by the Home Office from the requirement of being regulated by OISC when providing immigration advice or immigration services free of charge to migrants they are sponsoring or intend to sponsor under the terms of their sponsorship licence, and to their immediate family members and dependents.

This means that employers and educational institutions that are licenced by the Home Office to bring in migrants from outside the EEA may assist them and their family members and dependents with immigration advice and services without the need to be regulated by OISC.

The advice that may be provided under an exemption must be:

  • provided free of charge by the licensed sponsor or an employee of the licensed sponsor and not a third party
  • restricted to matters relating to a migrants (being sponsored by the licensed sponsor) application under Tier 2 or Tier 4 or to an application for entry clearance, leave to enter or leave to remain made by the person’s immediate family and which is dependent on the migrant’s application under Tier 2 or Tier 4 of the points-based system.

Everyone providing immigration advice or immigration services in the UK, including licensed sponsors must comply with OISC’s code of standards.

This exemption does not relate to sponsors licensed under Tier 5 or to advice provided in relation to Tier 1 applications.

This order is in addition to the existing orders (which remain in force) which include:

4. Applying for the correct level

When completing the application form you should consider both the levels (complexity of work to be undertaken) and categories of advice (areas of knowledge) that you wish to work at.

Details of the work covered at each level and category can be found in the guidance on competence issued by the commissioner.

The levels include:

  • level 1: basic immigration advice within the Immigration Rules

  • level 2: more complex casework, including applications outside the Immigration Rules

  • level 3: appeals

You should apply for regulation at the level that reflects your competence and service. If you are uncertain as to what is appropriate for you, please read the guidance on competence.

4.1 Providing immigration advice at more than one level

If you wish to operate at different levels for categories of advice, you should complete a competence statement at the highest level for any specific category.

If you are applying for level 2 in the categories of entry clearance, leave to remain and nationality, but level 1 in asylum, then you need only complete a level 2 competence statement.

You can apply to move up levels in the future, but will have to submit a new application and pay a further fee.

4.2 Transferring regulation to another organisation

Your regulation with the commissioner is not transferable to another organisation.

You can apply for regulation with another organisation, but you must submit a competence statement through the new organisation and wait for the commissioner to approve the application.

However, should you be transferring from one OISC organisation to another within 6 months at the same levels and categories, then we do not require a competence statement, we require written confirmation from the new organisation you are joining. This must be approved by the commissioner before you are able to start working at the new organisation.

The commissioner must provide you with the authorisation individually for each organisation you work for.

5. Application process

5.1 Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check

As part of your application for regulation you may need to undergo a DBS service check.

Please note that:

  • OISC will only accept a copy of an original DBS certificate if it’s dated within 6 months of the application for regulation being received by OISC (please only provide a copy of the DBS certificate, not the original)
  • existing advisers who are moving to a new organisation (with less than a 6 month break), and those increasing their level or categories, are not required to provide a DBS certificate
  • OISC reserves the right to request a new DBS check any at time

Obtaining your DBS disclosure application form

  1. Call the Disclosure and Barring Service on 03000 200 190.
  2. Quote the registered body name and number of: Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner 28153100004
  3. Request a criminal record disclosure check at standard level.
  4. The DBS will post an application form out to your home address.

Further information in relation to the Post Office ID Checking Service, completing your DBS application form and submitting your DBS application form can be found here

Enhanced DBS Disclosures

The OISC processes DBS checks at Standard Level. Should you wish to obtain an Enhanced Disclosure, as this is not a requirement for OISC advisers, you are required to obtain your disclosure certificate at this level from an umbrella body that can process this for you. A list of umbrella bodies is found on the GOV.UK website

5.2 Application form

Read the guidance notes and complete the application form, ensuring you fill in all the relevant sections and provide the required policies and procedures.

Please read the instructions on how to completed OISC electronic application forms and how to save the electronic documents you are required to provide in support of the application you submit.

You also need to complete the new adviser application and competence statement.

OISC has provided model documents to assist you with the requirements.

OISC is unlikely to approve an application from a person who has an unspent conviction under sections 91 or 92(b) of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act (as amended), or if a fine relating to the conviction is not yet cleared.

An application from a person who has been convicted under sections 25 or 26 of the 1971 Immigration Act cannot be approved.

5.3 Application fee

All organisations must pay a fee for an application for registration unless the applicant is a person who is:

  1. a. Providing immigration advice or immigration services in the course of a business that is not for profit; and
  2. b. Does not charge a fee, directly or indirectly, for the provision of that advice or those services

There will be subsequent application fees for continuing years’ registration. The commissioner considers membership fees and obligatory donations to be fees. The fee is dependent on the level of advice intended to be given and, for a level 2 or 3 application, the number of prospective advisers.

The scale of fees is set by Statutory Instrument No. 1366 of 2011 (The immigration services commissioner (Application fee) order 2011).

Level Number of advisers Regulation fee
1 Not Applicable £575
2 and 3 1 to 4 £1,750
2 and 3 5 to 9 £1,960
2 and 3 10 and over £2,370

The authorisation (application) fees collected by OISC are determined by the Home Office under legal powers and must be paid with applications.

The OISC has no power to refund application fees in respect of withdrawn or unsuccessful applications and refunds will be made only in the following exceptional circumstances;

  • Where the application has been made in error,
  • The OISC has in some material aspect mishandled the application; or
  • A refund is justified on medical or compassionate grounds

When making payment, please send your application fee by BACS or online transfer to the account detailed below:

Sort code: 60-70-80
Account no: 10014934
Account Name: OISC No2 Account
Bank: NatWest

Please quote your organisation’s name as a reference when sending BACS payments.

Cheques should be made payable to: The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner.

If you pay by cheque please ensure you print your full name and organisation number clearly on the back of the cheque so the OISC can match your payment to your application.

5.4 Check application is complete

Please ensure that you have completed all the relevant sections and included any documents required with your application.

Do not submit your application if it is not complete - incomplete applications will not be passed to a caseworker.

If necessary, we will write to tell you what information or documentation you did not provide, and you will have 14 calendar days to provide it. If you fail to provide it after that period, we will write to you again and you will have a further 7 calendar days to provide the information or documentation. If, at the end of the latter 7 day period you still have not provided the information and/or documentation, your application for regulation will be refused because, in failing to submit the required information or documentation, you will have failed to demonstrate that you can comply with the relevant codes. As explained, OISC cannot be satisfied that you are fit and competent to provide immigration advice and services. We can only grant authorisation to people if they can demonstrate that they are fit and competent.

5.5 Submit application

When you have completed your electronic application online and prepared all of your supporting documents as requested in the form you have completed you should submit your form to the OISC Dropbox platform along with the electronic copies of your supporting documents. You will be required to submit your email address and enter your name so the OISC can identify your application and link to you. You will receive an email confirming receipt of your application.

If you are unable to completed your application online in electronic form the OISC can still accept hard copy applications sent through the post or scanned via email. However it is advisable to completed your application and send it securely online if possible.

Printed application forms should be sent to the following address:

Application and First Contact Team
The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner
5th Floor
21 Bloomsbury Street
London
WC1B 3HF

Telephone: 0345 000 0046

Scanned applications should be emailed to info@oisc.gov.uk

6. After applying

Once you have submitted all the required information and documentation, we will consider your application. The material you have submitted will be assessed for compliance with the code of standards.

Each new adviser will be invited to sit a level 1 competence assessment as part of an overall assessment of his or her competence. You may also be asked to sit an assessment at levels 2 and 3 (please note this only applies to applicants wishing to work at level 2 or 3). See page 10 of the OISC application for regulation guidance notes for information on assessments.

If you then fail to provide all the required information and documentation with your application, it will be refused. The fee will not be refunded in these circumstances.

Make sure you read the code of standards and the commissioner’s guidance on competence. You can obtain further copies by calling 0345 000 0046.

When an application is approved, an organisation will normally be granted a registration period of 12 months. Each organisation intending to remain in the regulatory scheme will be required to apply to the OISC on an annual basis.

6.1 Competence assessment

Applicant advisers will be invited to sit OISC competence assessment once they have completed a Disclosure and Barring Service check and submitted a new adviser competence statement that meets the necessary experience and training requirements.

OISC must consider your competence to provide immigration advice and services.

If you are applying to become regulated or increase your current level of authorisation you will be tested according to the level and category that you are applying for. You will be expected to demonstrate a sound knowledge of the area that you have applied to be regulated in by passing a formal test of your knowledge, ability to analyse an immigration situation and effectively communicate your understanding in written English.

If you are applying for regulation as part of the local authority national checking service or for level 1 asylum and protection only, your competence will be assessed through a different process. Please contact OISC for further details.

The assessment provides OISC with one indication of your competence and it will be reviewed by the caseworker, along with other information submitted, before a final decision is made.

The syllabuses

Each level and category has a specific syllabus that provides information on the areas and standard that you will be expected to know.

You will need to ensure that you have the knowledge and skills to meet the standards that you are applying for.

To view the syllabuses for the different levels and categories choose:

The process

Assessment centre dates and locations

Sample questions

The level 1 assessment is a 2 part assessment. The first part is a multiple choice answer test and the second part is an immigration scenario followed by a number of questions about the scenario. Both parts of the assessment must be passed at the same assessment session.

An example of the type of questions you can expect can be found in the level 1 sample question

The level 2 and 3 assessments are both scenario based questions. They include:

Exam resource books

The following exam resource books have been developed for candidates taking the assessments. The level 1 exam resource book contains all the relevant statutory material, rules and regulations you may need to refer to during the assessment for candidates taking the level 1 assessment only. Candidates taking a level 1 assessment as a prelude to taking a higher level exam, should only print the level 2 and 3 exam resource book as this contains all the statutory material, rules and regulations you may need for both the level 1 and level 2 or 3 assessments.

6.2 Qualifications and SRA accreditation

Qualifications

You do not need any specific qualifications to apply for regulation. However, your competence and fitness will be thoroughly assessed before you will be approved.

You will need to satisfy OISC that you have the knowledge and skills to practice competently at the level at which you have applied.

Your organisation will need to satisfy OISC that you have the resources, management structures and procedures needed in accordance with the commissioner’s code of standards.

Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) accreditation

Prospective advisers who have successfully completed the SRA accreditations are not required to sit the corresponding level OISC competence assessment. These include:

  • SRA level 1 accredited caseworker > OISC level 1 assessment
  • SRA level 1 accredited caseworker > OISC level 2 assessment
  • SRA level 2 senior caseworker > OISC level 3 assessment

For OISC exemption at levels 1 and 2, the minimum requirement is SRA accredited caseworker. For level 3, it is SRA senior caseworker.

The relevant certificate must be enclosed with your application for regulation.

Please ensure that one certificate for each accredited adviser is submitted. For example, if only one applicant has SRA accreditation, the others need to sit OISC assessment.

6.3 Experience and training

Previous immigration work experience

It may be difficult for you to demonstrate that you have the required knowledge and skills if you have no previous training or experience in immigration law and practice, especially at levels 2 and 3.

Even if you demonstrate high levels of knowledge in the competence assessment, we may undertake oral competence assessments during pre-regulation visits and, ask that you attend additional training to improve your skills and abilities before authorisation is granted.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

The OISC CPD scheme is currently under review.

The OISC has provided guidance in relation to the changes that are taking place.

Further information will be provided about the new CPD scheme in the coming months.

Providing immigration advice and services while an application is being assessed

You cannot provide immigration advice and services until the commissioner has approved your application.

While your application is being considered, you are not regulated and are not permitted to provide immigration advice or services.

If we become aware that you are practising illegally, for example without authorisation, this could affect our decision on whether or not we approve your application.

It is a criminal offence, punishable by fine and/or imprisonment, for anyone to provide, or offer to provide, immigration advice and services without being approved to do so by the commissioner (or other body, as defined in Section 82 (2) of the act).

To offer to provide immigration advice and services, such as advertising, before the commissioner has approved your application, is also a criminal offence.

Becoming competent if you cannot practise until you are regulated

The act allows people to gain experience of immigration advice without being regulated if they are employed by, or supervised by, another adviser who is authorised by OISC to provide immigration advice and services. The organisation must inform OISC of the supervisory arrangements.

A person can also give immigration advice while employed (and supervised) by a member of a chosen professional body such as a practising solicitor.

7. Data protection

Our personal information charter contains the standards you can expect when we ask for, or hold, your personal information. It also covers what we ask of you, to help us keep information up to date.