Careers in immigration law

Kat Hacker is a solicitor-advocateIMMIGRATION solicitors providing access to justice on the front line frequently show “tenacity to fight a system set up against the client”. That’s the perspective of immigration solicitor-advocate Kat Hacker.

Immigration cases generally fall into two types. Business immigration involves securing work permits and troubleshooting cases of employees who are migrating for work. Public law immigration deals with asylum claimants, people whose right to stay is under threat and, indeed, those with no right to stay at all.

This field of work is all about maintaining close contact with clients and undertaking advocacy on their behalf – whether making evidence-based applications for permission to stay, or preparing for a hearing or appeal.

Working on the High Street

As a law reform and human rights organisation, JUSTICE turns its spotlight on the public law work stream where access to justice is key. This type of work is undertaken in a variety of legal settings.

The European Convention on Human Rights is fundamental to these cases, as Kat explains, “a lot of the cases coming into my firm from the High Street relate to assisting with Article 8 (family life) deportations. So usually a mother, father or son – rarely a daughter – have a form of status with less protection than British citizenship offers, and have committed a criminal offence and are now facing deportation. There are usually British family members involved and as there is no legal aid for this anymore, lots of families are having to pay privately for this representation.”

Kat shares JUSTICE’s commitment to access to justice and recognises its importance to the families involved. “Access to justice means obtaining representation to fight to keep the families together. Often deportation doesn’t just affect the individual who committed the offence and is now being removed, but affects the parents of the individual and the children. The whole family dynamic is put in jeopardy. This can obviously have an impact further on down the line when that child grows up, potentially within a single-parent household forced upon the family.”

As well as cases around deportation, asylum applications also generate a significant body of work. A proportion of these clients are making second time asylum claims, where they have already had their claim refused and have obtained new evidence which may support a second claim. In these cases, Kat says, securing access to justice takes on an additional meaning.

“The system is set up to start from the position that the client’s claim is a false one, rather than giving due credence to an individual from Iraq or Syria stating that their lives are at risk. So to afford them access to justice, it can just mean having the tenacity to fight within a system set up against the individual.”

Specialist immigration work

Jean-Benoit Louveaux smallNot all immigration work consists of walk-in clients. Specialist practitioners deal with the more complex and challenging cases. Kat’s firm routinely receives referrals from law centres and other front line law organisations, meaning she gets a fair share of this type of case as well.

“The referrals I receive are normally from Bail for Immigration Detainees, Kalayaan (a trafficking organisation) and Solace (a women’s domestic violence organisation). We rarely have walk-in trafficking victims, usually they are in safe houses or have just left their exploitative situation so these are often very vulnerable individuals to work with and take instructions from.

“In these more complex cases, often the client is in detention and usually has reached the end of the road. We take on the case to consider all final viable options to ensure that all the decisions which could be challenged, have been.”

A distinctive career path

Immigration work is distinctive in offering solicitors a real chance to influence the law and to undertake advocacy on matters of supreme legal importance.

Although practising as a caseworker day-to-day and dealing with individuals on the ground, Kat has worked on ground-breaking cases. These include P(DRC) v SSHD, halting deportation of convicted criminals to the Democratic Republic of Congo where they faced “serious threat to life”, and R(SO) v SSHD, on the right of second-time asylum claimants to work after twelve months if they have still not received a decision on their claim.

As JUSTICE’s Head of Administrative Justice, Jean-Benoit Louveaux, previously told the JUSTICE Student Network, “in asylum terms, losing means you face being sent back, forcibly or voluntarily, to the country you fled torture and/or persecution in, whereas winning gives you the opportunity to try to rebuild your life in safety and security”.

Kat’s blend of casework and high-level advocacy is a result of a careful balance struck throughout her career.

“Prior to qualifying as a solicitor in 2011, I was a non-practising barrister. So essentially I practised as a caseworker, but could conduct my own advocacy in the Tribunal, as I was accredited to do so under the Immigration and Asylum Accreditation scheme. Since cross-qualifying in 2011, I have continued to conduct my own advocacy and obtained my Higher Rights of Audience last year.

“The difference, as I understand it, that can be seen between my practice as a solicitor-advocate and barristers that I instruct, is that I develop relationships with the clients over the course of their case. When you’re instructed to attend only the hearings, you just see the client that day.

“I prefer the mix of being a solicitor and an advocate because it’s incredibly rewarding to see the transformation in clients as their case progresses. This is immensely satisfying when the individual is successful.”