University: London Metropolitan University (formerly the University of North London)
Immigration lawyers deal with all legal matters relating to immigration and nationality. The work ranges from asylum and human rights claims through applications by family members and students to how businesses can secure immigration status for their employees. There is a significant and increasing EU law element, and many cases raise important human rights issues. The law is rapidly developing in terms of both statute law and jurisprudence, and procedural timeframes are tight. There is a good deal of overlap with employment, tax, social welfare, mental health, prison law, criminal law and civil actions.
Rizwana Quazi, now a business immigration lawyer, never dreamed of being a solicitor: “I didn’t choose to be a solicitor initially. I always said that if I were to go into the legal profession, I would want to be a barrister, so I did my law degree and Bar Professional Training Course thinking that was the route I was going to pursue.”
From asylum seekers to business immigration
Following her degree, Rizwana began looking for experience: “I started looking for a pupillage, but during that time I needed experience, so I began doing advocacy at a solicitors’ firm. I do business immigration now, but when I started it was just about getting experience. We were asked to go to the immigration tribunal and represent asylum seekers. It was a good way to get the experience that I needed because it was all advocacy. If you were lucky enough to be a case worker – which I was – you got to do everything end-to-end. Because I was taking cases from the start all the way through to the finish, I felt I was getting the best of both worlds.”
Rizwana eventually became a senior case worker and was offered an opportunity to take part in the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme in order to switch to become a solicitor – something which was ultimately a hard decision: “I didn’t want to let the barrister route go, even though I was quite senior, because I had invested a lot. I eventually moved firms and continued with immigration, but I started to steer away from asylum and human rights. I decided to go into business immigration because the points-based system launched in 2008 and I wanted to focus on a different aspect of immigration.”
Over time, Rizwana has fully immersed herself into the sector: “Now I strictly do business immigration and 90% of what I do is corporate. It’s a very different process and incredibly fast-paced. There is a lot of strategy involved and our focus is on helping businesses add to their workforces, whether this is highly skilled workers or transfers.” Ultimately, according to Rizwana, “it’s all about finding solutions for your clients – we have to work with clients to come up with the best solutions for them.”
Implications of shifting immigration policies
There are undoubtedly significant changes happening to the United Kingdom’s immigration policies, but the impact of these changes still continues to be unclear: “Brexit is challenging the industry as a whole because we don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be, but it will certainly be wide ranging. Brexit has steadily kept us busy as lots of clients have wanted clarity on how best to deal with the uncertainty or how to manage their workforce. Many global businesses are still considering whether they’ll stay in the UK or relocate. Others have real concerns about recruiting highly skilled talent who may no longer want to relocate to the UK.”
Not only that, says Rizwana, but “a lot of employers haven’t previously needed to worry about their European workforce – there were no real immigration concerns with this population, however Brexit then brought a lot of questions from employers about how to safeguard their workforce, how to support them and how best to plan for employees’ futures.”
“There is a lot of strategy involved and our focus is on helping businesses add to their workforce, whether this is highly skilled workers or transfers while remaining compliant"
In light of all of the uncertainty, there has been a focus on providing clients with the most up-to-date information: “We spend a lot of time explaining the facts, but these keep changing, so we consistently hold workshops to keep everyone in the know. Once Brexit happens, the dynamics will change, as will our role.”
Rizwana’s personal experience highlights how quickly everything is changing: “It’s quite frustrating because you don’t know. You can only plan hypothetical situations. Companies may decide to leave even though they don’t need to, whereas other clients are willing to wait and see – you have to manage everyone’s expectations. It will certainly have an impact on us directly, but our duty and role in the current climate is to give clients the necessary knowledge.”
Wellbeing in the workplace
Rizwana serves on the wellbeing committee at Kingsley Napley and believes that a healthy work-life balance is essential: “There is a big emphasis at Kingsley Napley on wellbeing and mental health. Our industry is stressful and the hours are long. When I started, I didn’t know that my career would have such an impact on my mental wellbeing.
“Especially in business immigration, it doesn’t matter how much you prepare or how many hours you work, you’re always faced with situations that you haven’t planned for. Some people live off this stress, so it can work – but I think it’s important to realise that it doesn’t work for everyone. I believe that there is far more awareness of this in our industry and certainly at my firm. At Kingsley Napley, we are big on work-life balance.”
Rizwana concludes with some advice for aspiring solicitors: “Be proactive and have foresight. You must also be able to manage and work with your clients. Often, you’ll have clients that are set in their ways. As their solicitor, you should be able to communicate what the implications are if they don’t want to make changes. You also have to manage expectations and be frank, firm and – most importantly – fair.”
Another hugely important aspect is business development: “Because we do a lot of seminars, webinars and marketing, there is a big focus on business development at whatever level you’re at. Whether you’re a paralegal, trainee or partner, business development is so much more important now. Yes, you have to know the law and keep up to date, but law students will benefit from being able to make friends and network. It’s important to be well-rounded.”
Above all, Rizwana says “you need to believe in the same values as your firm. If you have things that are very important to you, try to get your experience with a firm that values those things too. I’ve worked for various businesses and firms and I love where I am now because of their values and integrity. Your wellbeing is so important.”
Her parting advice is to “develop your career in a place you feel comfortable, a place where you’re not afraid to say what you believe or voice your opinion. It’s so important to feel accepted for who you are and know that you’re a valid person. I believe that you can’t develop unless you get the freedom to be who you are.”