If you want to give immigration advice and you are not fully legally qualified then you will need to get registered with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, or “OISC”. You will need to pass exams, prove that you have experience, pay a fee to the OISC and more.
We get a lot of questions about how to become an OISC adviser so we thought it would be helpful to write it all down in one place. There are three levels of registration — levels 1, 2 and 3 — for different levels of complexity of advice. Here we address how to become an OISC Level 1 adviser. We cover what you need to do before you apply to register, how to apply for registration and what happens after you are registered. We have also provided some advice and tips on how to prepare for the OISC Level 1 exam.
Why do I need to be regulated to give immigration advice?
Anyone who provides immigration advice or services without being regulated and permitted to do so is committing a criminal offence under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The consequences for doing so are serious and could lead to a fine and/or imprisonment.
To provide immigration advice and services in the UK, you must be regulated by one of the professional bodies covered by the 1999 Act. Solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives, for example, are members of the Law Society, the General Council of the Bar and the Institute of Legal Executives, respectively. These three bodies are covered by the 1999 Act.
The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) supervises immigration advice and services provided by those not regulated by one of the professional bodies. People regulated by the OISC are generally known as “immigration advisers”. Immigration advisers may work for private companies, charities, community organisations or as sole practitioners.
The OISC was established under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to try and prevent migrants and their families receiving poor quality or dishonest immigration advice. The OISC assesses and registers people who want to become immigration advisers, supervises and audits organisations to ensure standards are being met and investigates complaints.
The OISC will take enforcement action against those who do not comply with the regulatory regime for immigration advice. It will investigate and prosecute those who provide poor advice or are providing advice and services when they are not registered. In the 2021-22 period, for example, the OISC carried out investigations into 81 complaints of illegal activity. Three criminal prosecutions were awaiting trial and two people were convicted.
Need or want to learn immigration law? Planning to sit the OISC level 1 exams? Prefer to learn in a small group? We have the perfect live training course for you.
Experience and training
The OISC is not a training organisation. When you apply to register with the OISC, you are declaring that you are ready to practice as an immigration adviser. You will need to satisfy the OISC that you have had sufficient experience and training to give real advice to real people in the real world. If you are registering an organisation, you will also need to satisfy the OISC that your organisation will function in accordance with the standards concerning professional practice, conduct and discipline.
How do I get experience providing advice when I am not qualified to provide advice?
The OISC want to see you have had three months’ of full-time work experience (or the equivalent part-time) providing immigration advice. Where this can be shown, you will probably already be (or have been previously) working for a regulated organisation or charity and supervised by another OISC regulated adviser or another regulated person, such as a practising solicitor.
The experience can include voluntary work, for example volunteering at your local Citizens Advice or an internship with a charity or non-governmental organisation. There is no requirement for you to have been paid. But this does not include helping out a few friends or family members with their immigration applications.
Having no previous experience in providing immigration advice will not necessarily prevent you from applying. The OISC recognises that experience providing non-immigration advice, such as welfare, debt, housing, legal or employment advice may also be sufficient at Level 1. In such a case, you will need to show six months’ full-time experience (or the equivalent part-time).
However you have gained your experience, you will need to provide details of this in the “Employment History” section of the application form, along with a list of referees. The OISC will assess whether your experience is considered sufficient on a case-by-case basis.
What training do I need to do?
On top of demonstrating that you have sufficient experience providing (immigration) advice, you will need to take a training course in UK immigration law and practice. This must cover each area of immigration law you intend to practice in.
The training must have been completed in the last 12 months to demonstrate you are up to date with the current law. There is no specific number of hours of training that must be completed to meet this requirement. There is also no specific body that the training should be undertaken with, so long as it is provided by a professional training organisation.
Finally, there is no requirement (at Level 1 at least) to have any specific qualifications. You do not have to have a law degree, or any degree for that matter, to become regulated by the OISC.
Knowledge and assessment preparation
Before you send off your application to register as an OISC adviser, you must have prepared for the assessment. This is because once the OISC authorisation team are satisfied they have all of the documents they need from you, you will be scheduled to take the assessment on the next available date.
Check to see the upcoming assessment dates online. It would be advisable to hold off submitting your application if, for example, you have a holiday booked which would conflict with the next scheduled assessment date. The OISC will only accept requests to postpone your allocated assessment sitting in exceptional circumstances.
During the assessment you will be invigilated by a webcam and a special computer programme. The assessment is open book but you cannot use the internet during the assessment. You will have access to the resource book and you can have whatever notes you like in front of you, so long as they are in reach. This can include your own printed/handwritten notes and any textbooks you wish to use.
Keep in mind the limited time you will have to complete the assessment – it would be useless to print out hundreds of pages of UKVI guidance documents for example, as you will waste a considerable amount of time locating what you need.
The assessment is in two sections and you have two and a half hours to complete both. Section 1 is multiple choice questions. There are 20 questions, 1 mark per question. Section 2 is scenario-based questions. Usually you will be required to draft a letter of advice. You will be assessed on your ability to provide the correct advice (i.e. answering the questions by applying the relevant law to the facts) and on your level of written English (spelling and grammar). Do familiarise yourself with the marking scheme before taking the assessment.
You will get your results after the assessment by email. The pass mark (for Level 1) is 60%. You must get 60% in both sections 1 and 2. You will only get one attempt at the assessment per application. This means if you fail, you will need to go through the initial application process again. Unfortunately, there are no refunds and you will not get any feedback.
How to prepare for the assessment
First, review the OISC Level 1 immigration syllabus. Make sure you understand the knowledge areas that will be tested and to what extent they will be tested. Check whether you need to have only an “awareness” of a topic, or a “detailed knowledge”, or something in between. Free Movement members can work from our online course materials, which cover the Level 1 syllabus.
Avoid the temptation of focusing your revision on your favourite area of immigration law, or the area you have the most experience in. Chasing obscure marks in your favourite area in the assessment will be harder and more likely to backfire than having a good understanding of all the areas and being able to pick up the easy marks.
You need to be aware of what an OISC Level 1 adviser is actually permitted to advise on. For example, the work you can do for asylum seekers is extremely limited. Read the Guidance on Competence. Essentially, Level 1 advisers can make applications that “rely on the straightforward presentation of facts to meet a set of qualifying criteria”. I.e. where a case is complex, relies on human rights arguments, or is refused, for example, Level 1 advisers are not permitted to give advice. The case must be referred or signposted to a higher level adviser.
The Code of Standards sets the professional standards that all immigration advisers must adhere to. It is therefore very important that you familiarise yourself with them and ensure you are complying with them when drafting your answers in the second section of the assessment. The Code of Standards are not very long, so there is no excuse for not reading the document in full.
To prepare for any assessment, it is important to practice by doing past papers. The OISC has a modest collection of these online. Though be aware that the answers provided in older papers will be based on immigration law at that time – i.e. very likely to now be incorrect/outdated.
Free Movement members can practice the multiple choice question section of the assessment by taking one of our three online tests.
Always try to do the past papers under timed conditions. When it comes to marking section 2, try to get a colleague/friend/family member to mark your answers rather than doing it yourself. It is better to have someone else mark you paper objectively – you may be tempted to give yourself marks where you should not, because “that is what I meant to say!” Ultimately, if you do not write it down, you will not get a mark for it.
Avoid the temptation of Googling answers when doing past papers. As mentioned earlier, you will not be able to access the internet during the assessment. Practice using only the resource book and your own printed notes. You might find it easier to print out the resource book and label it with sticky notes so that you can quickly navigate through it when you are pressured for time.
And finally, when you practice drafting your section 2 answers, try turning off your spell-checker. Once you have completed the practice paper, turn the spell-checker back on. You will be examined on your spelling and grammar so this should give you a good indication on whether you need to work on this. If your spelling and/or grammar is “bad”, you will fail the assessment (see mark scheme).
Assessment top tips
Manage your time well.
Allow one hour and 15 minutes for each section. Make sure you give yourself enough time at the end of completing each section to check over your answers. There are usually two additional marks available in section 2 for the structure and readability of your letter. Use some time at the end to see if you can make some final tweaks to pick up those last couple of marks.
Read the question. Then read it again.
Do not jump the gun because you think you know what the question is asking you. Failing to understand the whole question will lead you to writing irrelevant answers for which no marks will be awarded. Think about how to answer the question before you race to start writing. Jot down some thoughts and from the outset, be thinking about how you are going to structure your answers. Keep in mind that questions may cross over different areas of immigration law; the assessment is to test you as a practitioner after all, not as an academic student.
Apply the law to the facts.
You will not get marks for simply reciting the law so do not waste time copying out long sections of the Immigration Rules. Facts given in a scenario question are usually there for a reason. Make sure to make the most of them; especially in terms of advising your client on a set of requirements and what evidence they should provide to support their application. The model answers at the end of the OISC sample papers provide helpful examples on how to do this well.
Once you have the experience, training and knowledge under your belt, it is time to submit your application. There are two different forms for new applications on the OISC website:
If you are working with (or going to be working with) an organisation that is already registered with the OISC, you complete the New Adviser Application and Competence Statement only.
If your organisation is not registered – i.e. because you intend to set one up yourself – you must complete the Application for Registration with the OISC and a Competence Statement.
An organisation or adviser will only be registered with OISC if they are considered “fit” to provide immigration advice and services. OISC must be satisfied that you are likely to comply with the regulatory scheme (i.e. the Code of Standards), and have a history of honesty, legal compliance and financial probity. There is guidance on fitness for advisers and guidance on fitness for owners which explains how fitness will be assessed.
For the OISC’s purposes, an “organisation” does not only include private firms/companies and non-profits; it also includes people who are self-employed sole traders. So, if you plan to provide immigration advice and services as a self-employed sole trader, you must complete both applications. Although you are a solo adviser, you must be providing advice under the umbrella of a registered organisation which will appear on the list of advisers on the OISC website.
Applications are completed electronically and submitted to a secure folder on the OISC website. In the 2021-22 period, 72% of new organisation applications were decided in less than 16 weeks.
Application for registration
The application form and accompanying guidance notes to register with the OISC can be accessed here. It is important to read the guidance before you prepare the application.
You will need to provide information, including the legal status of the organisation (sole trader, private limited company, charity, etc.) and whether the organisation will be fee charging or non-fee charging. For non-fee charging organisations, there is no registration fee.
The owner of the organisation will need to provide their details in this form too, along with anyone who will be working as an adviser for the organisation.
Sole traders who do not have an office may put down a residential address as their “main address”. But think about how you will see your clients – will they come to your home? Or perhaps you will rent an office on an ad hoc basis. All of this will need to be detailed in a business plan, which we will come on to.
With the application form, you will need to include a number of business documents. For a successful application, the OISC must be satisfied that your business documents comply with the Code of Standards. The documents include:
This is your opportunity to explain how your knowledge, skills, training and experience mean you are ready for practice and that you are competent to provide immigration advice and services.
Client care letter
All prospective clients must be given a client care letter when they instruct you. This needs to be as detailed as possible. It will set out the client’s instructions, fees, additional costs, whether VAT is added, when you expect them to pay you, a reference to your complaints procedure, etc. Your client will need to sign the letter or confirm via email that they agree with your Terms. You should not proceed with any work until the client has agreed to your Terms.
The OISC has model documents online, including a model client care letter and the other documents listed below. However, you must not copy these documents, just use them as a guide. Each need to be tailored to reflect how you will run your organisation.
The OISC wants to know how you are going to handle a complaint. The complaints procedure must set out how you will investigate a complaint and what remedial action will be taken if a complaint is upheld. The OISC will determine whether the investigation procedure is satisfactory. Client’s must also be made aware that they have a right to complain directly to the Commissioner as well.
Client closure letter
When a case has been completed the client should be sent a letter. The letter will confirm the case’s completion, what the outcome was and what the implications of this outcome are, e.g. the client has further leave to remain, the right to work/no right to work, etc. The letter should also detail how any documents will be returned to them and confirm if any fees are owed (or alternatively, confirm that no fees are outstanding.)
You will need a business plan to demonstrate to the OISC how the business is going to run. It should detail any management and governance structures and the processes and policies in place. The OISC will be looking to be assured that the business is going to be financially viable and sustainable.
For example, for non-fee charging organisations, it would be important to explain where the organisation will get its funding from. For fee charging organisations, you might explain how you are going to increase the number of fee earners over a period of time, or increase their/your qualifications from Level 1 to Levels 2/3. Be as detailed as possible. Information on how to construct your business plan is set out in the guidance.
Professional Indemnity Insurance
An organisation cannot be registered with the OISC unless they have adequate Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII). This is so that compensation can be paid to a client in circumstances where an adviser of the organisation has, for example, acted negligently, made an error or provided incorrect advice which has led to the client suffering financial loss.
You can submit a quote for PII when you apply to register with the OISC, but the application will not be approved until you have a PII policy in place. The OISC recommends minimum policy coverage of £250,000.
For fee charging organisations, you will need to submit a fee scale. As part of the process, the fee scale will need to be approved by the OISC. If after you are registered you wish to amend the fee scale, you must contact the OISC and obtain another approval before making any changes.
Often immigration services are provided on a fixed fee basis. To get an idea of how much you should charge, decide on your hourly rate and multiply it by approximately the number of hours it will take you to prepare a type of application.
You will need to provide a document setting out the client account procedure. Money held in a client account is all money paid by the client in advance of work being done. This includes future disbursements, such as fees to translate documents. It is good practice for application fees to be paid directly by the client rather than the organisation, in case something goes wrong with the payment.
Money in the client account belongs to the client, not the organisation, and is protected by the bank. The business account is a separate account. Once the work has been completed, the organisation can invoice the client and any money deposited in advance can be transferred from the client to the business account.
New adviser application and competence statement
Where you are adding a new adviser to the organisation, or you are becoming a new adviser yourself by joining a registered organisation, you must complete a New Adviser Application and provide a Competence Statement. This includes all advisers; whether they are volunteers or employed staff.
As part of this process, you must complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. If you have a DBS certificate that is less than six months old when you apply, you can submit this. Otherwise, a new certificate will be required. The OISC does this on your behalf as part of the application process.
You will also need to evidence your right to work in the UK. This may include providing your British passport, biometric residence permit or evidence of status under the EU Settlement Scheme. If you have limited leave to remain in the UK, you will need to have at least 18 months leave to remain left on the date of application (though there is some flexibility for those joining a registered organisation).
Finally, you must submit a Competence Statement confirming you have attained a sufficient level of experience and training, as detailed in the Application for Registration section above.
Once the application is submitted, the OISC authorisation team will check to confirm that they have received all the relevant documents before scheduling you for the next available assessment.
If you pass the assessment and the OISC is satisfied that you have demonstrated you are fit and competent, your application will be approved. You will receive a registration number and you can start providing immigration advice and services.
Once you are registered, you must be aware of your ongoing duties.
The OISC will regularly audit regulated organisations to ensure they are compliant with the Code of Standards and that their policies and procedures are working effectively. Generally, audits are carried out annually, but they may occur less frequently.
Organisations will be given prior notice that an auditing caseworker will be carrying out an audit. The caseworker will request a list of all clients in advance and will crosscheck information on a number of cases with the Home Office. They will then attend the organisation’s office and request to review the selected files. Files can be kept electronically or in hardcopy but must be backed up.
The audits are to examine the policies and procedures of the organisation and the competence of its advisers. For example, if a caseworker reviews the case file of a client who received a refusal, they will expect to see that the client’s expectations were managed from the outset and that they were informed of the merits of their case.
After an audit, the caseworker will provide feedback on their findings and discuss any issues. The organisation will be sent a written summary of the findings which will identify any areas of poor practice or breaches of the Code of Standards, along with advice on how to rectify the issues or improve. If there are a number of issues, the caseworker may arrange a follow-up audit.
Where the OISC is not satisfied that the organisation is in compliance with the Code of Standards and/or their advisers are not fit and competent to provide immigration advice and services, they can cancel the organisation’s registration.
Change of circumstances
If the circumstances of an adviser or regulated organisation change, the OISC must be notified within ten days. This may include where an adviser has joined the organisation or left the organisation, the organisation has ceased providing immigration advice or services, or the organisation has changed address.
Where the organisation wishes to add a new adviser, they will need to complete the New Adviser Application and Competence Statement. If the new adviser is currently working for another organisation that is regulated by the OISC or has been regulated by the OISC within the last six months, it generally is not necessary to complete the Competence Statement. Instead, the organisation needs to provide the details of the new adviser to the OISC and await approval. The new adviser must not start providing advice or services until approval is granted.
Where an organisation wishes to provide advice and services at a higher level, they will need to complete the Application Form for Raising Levels. For each adviser wishing to raise their own level, they will need to provide evidence of their training and experience in the form of a raising levels competence statement.
An organisation will normally be granted a registration period of 12 months. Before their registration expires, they can apply to re-register. There is an application form to complete and a fee to pay. Re-registration is a simple process as long as no complicated circumstances have arisen.
Continuing professional development training
Immigration law changes very frequently. It is important for immigration lawyers – including immigration advisers, solicitors and barristers – to keep their skills and knowledge up to date and be alert to changes and current best practice. This is known as continuing professional development (CPD).
The OISC CPD Scheme is not prescriptive as to how advisers should do their CPD training. It is however expected that advisers maintain a learning and development record which details how they keep themselves up to date.
This may include undertaking formal training courses. Other recognised forms of CPD include attending meetings or seminars, researching developments in your area of practice and networking with other immigration advisers.
Free Movement members can access our collection of training courses, including our Monthly Update course, all of which provide a CPD certificate on completion. Anyone, with or without a Free Movement membership, can sign up to our weekly newsletter and keep up to date with the latest news on our immigration blog page.
This would all count towards your CPD – just make sure you record it and save some evidence of the CPD activity you have done.
In June, Free Movement launched a new online guided learning training course in immigration law, intended for those preparing to sit the OISC Level 1 assessment.
Our four-week course includes eight tutor-led online seminars, on Mondays and Thursdays between 4pm and 5.30pm. The first seven seminars focus on law and practice and the final one covers regulation, ethics and assessment preparation.
Our next course is due to start in September. The exact start date is TBC, but keep an eye out for the registration form very soon, which will be posted on our blog page and in our newsletter.
For specific queries on registering with the OISC, it is best to contact the Customer Service Unit directly: firstname.lastname@example.org