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 always said that if I were to go into the legal profession, I would be a barrister, so I did my law degree and Bar Professional Training Course thinking that was the route I would 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 practice business immigration now, but when I started out it was about getting experience. We were asked to go to the immigration tribunal and represent asylum seekers. It was a good way to get the know-how and skills that I needed because it was all advocacy. If you were lucky enough to be a case worker – which I was – you were responsible for handling everything end-to-end. I was progressing cases from start to finish, so I felt I was getting the best of both worlds of client work and advocacy.”
Rizwana eventually became a senior case worker and was offered an opportunity to take part in the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme to switch to become a solicitor – something that was ultimately a hard decision: “I didn’t want to let the barrister route go, even though I was quite senior in my current role, because I had invested a lot. I eventually moved firms and continued with immigration, but started to steer away from asylum and human rights. I decided to enter 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 95% 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 helping corporates manage their skilled workforce, while remaining compliant.” According to Rizwana, “it’s all about finding solutions for your clients – we have to work with clients to come up with the best results.”
Implications of shifting immigration policies
“There have been significant changes to the United Kingdom’s immigration policies,” says Rizwana.
“There has been a need to constantly adapt to ongoing challenges to the industry such as Brexit and ending free movement, the negotiation and impact of the UK’s relationship with the EU; as well as global considerations such as the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on international travel, which over the past 18 months adversely affected the planning and management of skilled, talented workforce relocating to different global locations for work purposes. These hurdles have steadily continued to keep us engaged as many clients have needed clarity on how to deal with the uncertainties along the way; and advice on how to manage their skilled workforce during these tentative times. The UK has seen a new immigration system introduced which led to increasing strategic discussions with clients about maintaining the flexibility and diversity of their workforce. Some businesses have faced dilemmas where highly skilled talent no longer want to relocate to the UK, while other employers have been exceptionally keen to implement new processes under the new UK immigration system in readiness for a big recruitment initiative. Not all clients have had the same experiences during these challenging times and in addition to adapting to immigration trends, it is crucial to understand each client’s business needs and analyse the sector and industry developments.”
“There is a lot of strategy involved and our focus is helping corporates manage their skilled workforce, 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 regularly publish client alerts, updates and host webinars to keep everyone in the know. As the dynamics change in UK immigration, so will our role.”
Rizwana’s personal experience highlights how quickly everything can change: “It’s often quite frustrating because you don’t know all the answers when a crisis hits. You can only plan hypothetical situations and advise how to minimise risk to a business and its workforce, particularly when faced with unprecedented circumstances. Many clients have bespoke methods of handling risk and adversity, whereas others are more inclined to periodically evaluate and persevere. There is a wide array of expectations to manage. Whatever the challenge to the industry, it will certainly always have a direct impact, but our duty in the current climate is to give clients the necessary reassurance and 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 can be 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 – 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 Kingsley Napley – we are big on work-life balance.”
Rizwana concludes with advice for aspiring solicitors: “Be proactive and have foresight. You must be able to manage and work with your clients. Often, you’ll have intense clients that are set in their ways. As their solicitor, you should communicate what the implications are if they don’t want to make changes. You also must manage expectations and be frank, firm and objective.”
Another important aspect is business development: “Because we host a lot of seminars, webinars and marketing events, there is a focus on business development at every level. Whether you’re a paralegal, trainee, associate or partner, business development is so much more important now. Yes, you must know the law and keep up to date, but law students will benefit from making friends, contacts and networking. It’s important to be well-rounded and personable.”
Above all, Rizwana says “you must believe in the same values as your firm. If you have things that are important to you, try to get 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 the values and integrity. Your wellbeing, personal strengths, differences and principles are considered very important and diversity is celebrated at Kingsley Napley. Her parting advice is: “Develop your career in a place you feel comfortable, where you’re not afraid to say what you believe or voice your opinion. It’s important to feel accepted for who you are and know that you’re an exceptional person. I truly believe that you can’t develop unless you have the freedom to be who you are.”