Updated: Where to find free legal advice on residence and citizenship
In the UK and other EU countries the race to get permanent residence or citizenship continues, as expatriates seek to secure their position ahead of Brexit. The administrative procedure is not always easy to navigate and the UK Home Office has a record of rejecting 28% of applications from EU nationals. What to do in case of difficulties? A solution might be found consulting a registered immigration lawyer. Many people, however, cannot afford it. So we looked around to find legal services that offer advice free or almost free of charge.
In the United Kingdom
Law Centres Network – The Law Centres are a network of 44 local not-for-profit law firms specialised on issues such as social welfare, housing, employment and discrimination. They offer free legal support to vulnerable groups who cannot afford a lawyer. Their Living Rights project tackles exploitation at work of EU nationals with workshops, individual sessions and guides available in several languages. As part of the Citizen Brexit Observatory, in partnership with European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) and the University of Sheffield School of Law, they offer free legal advice about residence and other EU rights. The centres specialized in EU law are in London (Lambeth, Southwark, Islington and Harrow), Birmingham, Chesterfield, Newcastle and Glasgow. Nevertheless, Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, Head of Policy, suggests to contact any centre in case of need: “They may not be able to help, but they can provide other reputable sources of advice.”
Citizens Advice Bureaus – A key contact point for problems related to benefits, work, debt and money, consumer protection, health, family and housing, Citizens Advice Bureaus also provide free advice on immigration. They are present in 3,500 locations in the UK and consultations can take place on the phone or online too.
AIRE (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe) Centre – A charity that promotes awareness of European laws and assists vulnerable people with free legal support.
Charities working within specific communities – The East European Resource Centre, for example, helps people from East and Central Europe with residence and naturalisation for “a small fee.” The advantage in this case is to receive support in your own language. Similar services might be available for other communities.
UK CEN – Initially set up on Facebook, UKCEN (UK Citizenship for European Nationals) supports those who wish to apply for registration certificates, permanent residence and UK citizenship. A number of resources are available on the website and people can post questions and get answers from certified immigration lawyers in the Facebook group.
Here for Good – An organisation set up by two young lawyers to offer free legal assistance to those who need it the most in the context of Brexit. It offers a self-help guide prepared with senior partners at law firms Wesley Gryk and Bindmans to help people understand the UK permanent residence and citizenship system. The long-term plan is to offer free legal advice to citizens from the European Union and the European Economic Area who live in the UK, especially outside London, but fundraising for this is ongoing.
Your Europe Advice – Managed on behalf of the European Commission by ECAS, this service promises a written response to questions about EU rights within a week and in any of the 24 EU official languages. Enquiries can be submitted online or by phone. Advice is provided by 63 legal experts spread across EU countries and familiar with both EU and national laws. They do not offer support for filling forms or for litigation, but based on the enquiry they can signpost people to other reputable services.
EU rights clinic – A joint initiative of the University of Kent in Brussels, the Kent Law Clinic and ECAS, this service helps EU citizens resolve problems encountered when moving within the EU. Assistance is provided by students and qualified lawyers. “About half of the 100 cases we receive per year originates in the UK,” says Anthony Valcke, Founder and Supervising Solicitor. “We used to have many cases on non-EU family members, but after the EU referendum we receive more and more requests from EU nationals in the UK, British in other EU countries and British returning to the UK.”
Embassies – The Portuguese consulate in the UK helps citizens to prepare permanent residence applications. The German Embassy and the Italian Embassy have a dedicated Brexit email address for their citizens to request information. Others might offer similar support. Even if they cannot help directly, they can refer people to other authorized services.
Immigration advice and services can only be provided by registered advisers. A list of contacts in the UK is available on the government website.
Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.
Photo via Pixabay.
This article was published on 25 September 2017 and updated on 18 February 2018 with the addition of UK CEN and Here for Good.