'Immigrant advice' cheats to be purged

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The Independent Online
JA clampdown on hundreds of bogus immigration advisers, who dupe vulnerable people out of thousands of pounds, is to be launched by the Government, it was revealed yesterday.

The Home Office is expected to introduce a licensing system and may appoint an inspectorate to prevent further abuses. The move follows a huge upsurge in the number of people, many of whom have no qualifications, setting themselves up as paid-for consultants. There have been cases in which people have paid as much as pounds 4,000 to pounds 5,000 for "advice" on issues such as visas, work and marriage, much of which is wrong or fraudulent.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said yesterday: "These so called advisers are making a killing out of pursuing bogus applications." He also announced the scrapping of the much criticised "primary purpose" immigration rule that has barred entry to thousands of people married to British citizens.

The rule requires foreigners married to British citizens to prove that it is not the primary purpose of the marriage to gain entrance to Britain. The change will result in up to 1,000 people awaiting appeals being granted immediate entrance to Britain and an estimated further 500 who fall foul of the rule every year being allowed in.

On the question of immigration advisers, Mr Straw said that among the measures likely to be introduced are the introduction of licensing or a register to ensure that only qualified and approved people offered assistance. An inspectorate may also be created to police the system.

Claude Moraes, director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, an organisation which is approved by the Law Society, said there were hundreds of bogus advisers in every inner-city area.

Their charges ranged from a few hundred pounds to several thousand, and they often gave incorrect advice or charged for filling in standard forms and making unnecessary telephone calls.

He said: "These people are taking huge amounts of money from vulnerable people. They know there's a massive market and money to be made. A consultant can set themselves up overnight and do not need any qualifications or training."

Mr Moraes added that he welcomed the decision to abandon the primary purpose rule.

Under the changes announced by Mr Straw, spouses applying to live in the UK with their British husband or wife will no longer have to prove that it their main purpose is not the gaining of access to this country. Mr Straw said: "This pernicious rule has penalised genuine marriages, divided families and unnecessarily increased the administrative burden on the immigration system."

Applicants will still have to show that the marriage is genuine, that both parties have met, and that the couple are financially self-sufficient. They will also be a year's probationary period.

The Home Office is also looking at ways of making the immigration system fairer for people wanting to visit Britain for weddings and funeral.

In a further development, the Home Office plans to tighten up the issue of birth certificates after a number of cases in which criminals have fraudulently used them to assume a false identity.