Funding Immigration Advice – Why we think it is so important

A blog by Geraldine Blake (Director of Collaboration - Regional, London Funders)

Several months ago we were approached by Paul Hamlyn Foundation on behalf of the Greater London Authority and the Justice Together Initiative, to develop the funding strategy for immigration advice in London

There are already a group of very committed and collaborative funders working in this field.  The intention of the funding strategy is to engage a wider pool of funders and to help those already active to increase their impact. Immigration advice can appear (and can be) complex, regulated, and potentially political, that it can be hard for funders to knowhow to engage. London Funders wanted to develop a strategy that sets out simply (and yet in a compelling way), for non-expert funders or funders new to the field, why they should engage, what they can do, and how they can do it. At the same time, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation had also commissioned mapping research from Dr Jo Wilding and her team, which provides the expert detail of demand and supply in London.  Together, they provide a platform for informed action by funders.  

We started from the position that limited access to good immigration advice would be increasing demand and exacerbating hardship in connected sectors that may of our members support such as children and young people, families, poverty, employment, education, domestic abuse, health, homelessness, criminal justice and strong communities. I was surprised by the level of overlap between these areas. For example, about 50% of London’s rough sleepers are non-UK nationals; and in some inner London primary schools, 10% of pupils are from families with no recourse to public funds.

We began with a deep dive into the funding data to look at these overlapping sectors.  We found many more funders than we expected were already funding organisations that provide immigration advice, even if they were not paying for the advice itself. We targeted these funders to participate in three roundtables to develop the strategy.

Conversely, to the abundance of funders, I was really struck by the fact that, there just aren’t the numbers of trained advisors any more, particularly at OISC Level 2 and 3 where the case work for people will complex immigration issues happens. This means that we can’t just fix this problem by throwing more money at the frontline. That just moves the existing trained advisors around organisations. So funding investment has to be more strategic and longer term if we are to enable this committed and creative sector to flourish.

One of the most interesting models in the report is Refugee Action’s Frontline Immigration Advice Project.  This is a crucial initiative that addresses the pipeline of skilled advisors into the sector, training advisers up to Level 2, helping organisations get OISC registered, and supporting the organisational development that will enable good quality advice work. The project is easily scalable with additional investment.

The report asks funders to look across the whole system: investing in frontline immigration advice and grass roots organisations, ensuring the immigration advice sector has the pipeline of skilled employees it requires, is well networked so that there are no wrong doors for people needing help,  is supported by effective infrastructure, and is able to contribute its expertise to better policy making for a fairer immigration system. 

We recognise that different funders will want to engage in different parts of the system, and that some will be able to flexible whilst others will be more restricted as to what they can do and how they can do it. But by understanding the interconnectedness of the whole system, and working together, funders can increase the impact of their resources. London Funders is going to be taking this message on the road, speaking to our various funder forums and networks, and to others – let us know if there are opportunities to present this to you, and let us know if you’re already taking action as a result.

Ultimately, this strategy is about Londoners. One of the reasons I choose to live in London is its diversity. Over one third of Londoners were born outside of the UK (including me), and over half of Londoners born abroad don’t hold a British passport. That’s one in six of my neighbours, who are struggling to navigate a system that is intentionally designed to be complex, expensive and hostile. Investing in good quality immigration advice and advocacy for a fairer system enables all of our neighbours to obtain the status they need to move forward in their own lives with confidence, and to participate fully in the life of our great city.

If you would like to discuss the research in more detail, do send Geraldine an email.