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Julia Onslow-Cole
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Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Brexit

Julia sits on the global leadership team for PwC's worldwide legal practice covering all lines of service and is the global head of immigration, with PwC immigration practices in 171 countries. Julia was appointed to the Mayor of London's Brexit advisory group and is a key expert on PwC’s Brexit taskforce liaising with government and business following the referendum.

Julia has represented business at the prime minister's immigration stock take meeting and acted as an adviser to the Home Office on business, investment and growth. Julia is chair of London First's working party on immigration and sits on the advisory board of Migration Matters Trust and the Permits Foundation. Julia is also a board member of the council for Global Immigration, the chair of the International Bar Association's human rights institute charitable trust, a member of the Chatham House refugee forum and a member of the advisory committee of COMPASS, at the University of Oxford.

Did you and the team at PwC anticipate a “leave” result in the Brexit referendum? What did you do to prepare for both outcomes?

PwC had prepared for both outcomes. In advance of the referendum vote, PwC undertook in-depth analysis of both possible outcomes in order to best prepare our clients. A substantive and widely publicised report in partnership with the CBI entitled “Leaving the EU: Implications for the UK economy” was published just before the referendum.

In addition, we have hosted a series of webcasts in our “Beyond Brexit” series which began on 24 June when the referendum result first came in. This series has enabled us to give more than 50,000 clients and stakeholders the very latest insights and updates so that they are prepared for how Brexit may impact their business and their employees, with up-to-the minute insight from a cross-section of senior experts as developments arise.

Is “no deal” better than “a bad deal” when it comes to maintaining competitive corporate immigration laws the UK?

Freedom of movement is a key issue in the Brexit debate and it is encouraging that the government is actively engaging with business to inform their approach to the negotiations.

What steps has the firm taken to ensure that it remains at the forefront of immigration law for clients during the Brexit process?

PwC is widely engaged in the Brexit debate and continues to lead and inform the debate through continued analysis of the economy and the impact for business of proposals for the Brexit deal. Personally, I have been appointed to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s Brexit taskforce, leading on immigration policy. In this role, sitting alongside Lord Mandelson; Baroness Vadera, chair of Santander UK; Xavier Rolet, chief executive of the London Stock Exchange Group; and others, we support the mayor as representatives of the business community and advise and support him in his monthly meetings with the secretary of state for exiting the European Union, David Davis MP. I also recently gave expert evidence at the European Parliament in Brussels on the impact of Brexit for business and access to talent and skilled workers. Being at the front line of the Brexit debate alongside senior stakeholders enables PwC to be best positioned to guide clients on developments in real-time.

In addition we have been involved in a number of key reports working with PwC's economists and data analysts which have analysed the impact of migration restrictions and suggested different immigration policies for the future. These include "Facing Facts: The impact of migrants on London, its workforce and its economy (; “Regional Visas A unique immigration solution?” (, and " Report on the Vision for a transformed world leading industry" which contains details of a new digital visa we devised.

Are there things the UK can learn from European nations outside the EU that have managed to retain investment and remain attractive to business? (Non-EU European countries are Albania, Armenia. Belarus, Gibraltar, Iceland, Kosovo, Lichtenstein, Macedonia, Norway, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vatican City State (Holy See).)

This is an unprecedented time therefore it is welcoming to see that the government continues to listen and liaise with business, as well as  other countries, to ensure they negotiate the best possible outcome for the UK, as it is so important for us to have an investor-friendly ecosystem that supports continued growth for the UK. A key theme for any future immigration policy will be flexibility and agility. 

What advice would you give to clients in order to mitigate disruption to their business interests following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU?

Businesses can prepare themselves now to withstand any disruption by identifying their existing EU population, strategically planning their workforce needs in line with their growth ambitions and engaging with their staff to provide reassurance to them throughout the negotiation period.

How important is retaining freedom of movement to immigration law and corporate investment in the UK?

It is very helpful that the government continue to listen to business, and has confirmed that there will be an implementation period for businesses to adjust to the upcoming changes. This provides certainty in a continuously changing climate.

What impression has the UK’s decision to leave the EU made on your overseas clients in relation to their commercial interests in the country?

The UK has a strong, rich heritage of global business and international trade and our clients are aware of and value the UK’s resilience in periods of change. With the Brexit result now over a year old, clients are continuing with business as usual insofar as they are able to, but undoubtedly are doing so in listening mode

To what extent is immigration now a more complex issue for clients than it was before the EU referendum?

The future of work is changing at a very fast pace. The rise of automation and AI had resulted in clients rethinking the way in which they deliver their services and reimagining their mobility programmes. Clients have become very agile and are able to withstand disruption and complex issues that are arising globally as a result of the geopolitical climate. PwC is always one step ahead and we can use our position in the market to help our clients withstand any changes. 


Who's Who Legal Corporate Immigration

Julia Onslow-Cole is a partner, legal markets leader and head of global immigration at PwC. Julia has recently been appointed to the board of Council for Global Immigration in Washington and the board of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Julia also sits on the Mayor of London's brexit advisory group and newly established Home Office EU Immigration Employers' Representative Group.

Julia is on the global leadership team for PwC's worldwide legal practice covering all lines of service and is a key expert in PwC's Brexit taskforce. She has represented business at the Prime Minister's immigration stock take meeting and acted as an adviser to the Home Office on business, investment and growth. She has been liaising with government and business on immigration outcomes subsequent to the EU Referendum and has given expert evidence at the European Parliament. Julia is co signatory of the groundbreaking PwC/London First report on the impact of migrant workers in London and a co signatory of the report on regional visas by PwC commissioned by the City of London Corporation.

Julia is chair of London First's working party on immigration and sits on the advisory board of Migration Matters Trust, the Permits Foundation and the Migration Museum.

Julia is responsible for clients and markets within the legal network and leads the largest global immigration network of its kind, with over 1600 experts in PwC offices in over 174 countries. Supported by a first-class multinational team of immigration, global mobility, tax and employment experts, Julia understands the issues clients face in an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape; she was the leader of the unique crisis management services that PwC rendered during the Arab Spring and Algeria hostage crisis. She regularly speaks at conferences across the globe on the impact of the refugee crisis including, most recently, speaking with Kofi Annan in Monaco. Julia also chaired the first of a series of meetings organised by The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on refugee employment on which she spoke at the United Nations meetings in New York. She is a member of Concordia and the Chatham House Refugee Forum.

Julia has advised several governments, particularly on citizenship by investment programmes and on general immigration policy.

She is contributing co-editor to several leading textbooks on immigration law, a member of the UK Association for European Law, fellow of the Society for Advanced Legal Studies, and expert to the office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, associate member of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and former member of the Government's advisory board on naturalisation and integration.

She was voted the UK's "Expert Expert" by Legal Business and has been the recipient of several nominations and awards including Corporate Immigration Lawyer of the Year by Lawyer Monthly and Woman of the Year; Business Growth at the Citywealth Power Women Awards and the Law Society Excellence Awards, Solicitor of the Year Private Practice Award and Leading Corporate Immigration Advisor of the Year 2016.

Julia is the chair of the International Bar Association's human rights institute charitable trust and a member of the advisory committee of COMPASS, at the University of Oxford.

WWL says: Julia Onslow-Cole has an outstanding "reputation for excellence on the corporate side" of complex immigration matters.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Corporate Immigration which can be purchased from our Shop.

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