Ben is a managing partner and head of business immigration at Magrath Sheldrick LLP, one of the UK’s leading commercial immigration practices. He is recognised as a top UK immigration expert by the legal community and is noted by all of the major legal directories for his expertise in immigration law. Ben is immigration counsel to many household-name multinational companies and he has extensive experience in strategic planning of global mobility programmes for large organisations, assisting global mobility departments and HR professionals in developing compliance and legal right to work policies and procedures.
Describe your career to date.
I started legal life as a criminal barrister and began to pick up some immigration appeals. I then moved into private practice within an immigration firm and joined my current firm as a partner in 2000. I would describe my career as organic rather than pre-planned.
What do you enjoy most about working in the field of corporate immigration?
Immigration is one of the most pressing political and legal topics of our time. It is fascinating to work in a subject area that is at the centre of national debate.
How has the field changed since you started practising?
It has changed immensely. The criteria that apply to the sponsorship of foreign skilled workers have become much more onerous, and expensive, for employers to navigate. Immigration control has, to a large extent, been devolved down to the beneficiaries of the schemes, ie, the employing entities and other sponsors. This has created a risk landscape that is much more challenging than was the case 20 years ago. Sanctions for non-compliance are harsher, carrying major financial and reputational risk.
Private client routes (eg, entrepreneur and investor visas) have become more constrained. Evidential requirements have become more complex. Appeal rights have been stripped away.
It is a constantly evolving and challenging area of law, dominated by the prevailing political narrative in the country. When you add Brexit to the mix, there is a lot to consider.
How is the UK government’s aim to reduce net migration affecting your practice?
It’s fair to describe it as an aim rather than an achievement. In fact, the overall annual net migration figure has not shifted significantly since Theresa May introduced the policy in 2010. Nevertheless, the government remains committed to reducing net migration to “sustainable” levels and, when rights of free movement do eventually fall away in 2021, control will become easier to exercise.
The government has attempted to reach the target by imposing a number of “push” factors into the schemes. These include large additional costs and levies, reductions in routes to settlement, “cooling-off” periods and wholesale abolition of previously popular routes, such as Tier 1 general and post-study work visas. The consequence for practice is that there are many more complexities to work around – but that is what we are here for.
Given the strains on some sectors of the labour market, do you believe it would be helpful to open up the Tier 2 visa scheme?
It will certainly be helpful to create more flexibility in the points-based system (PBS) generally in order to meet the demands of the economy. Post-Brexit immigration policy may result in some opening-up of Tier 2, but only to a marginal extent. The potential removal of the Tier 2 cap will certainly be welcome as this scheme must be able to respond to sponsor demand, including the potential for a spike in applications as a result of economic growth. The ambit of the scheme, in terms of the number of qualifying skills and occupations, may also grow.
However, one area of great concern is among roles in the lower salary distribution. If they are excluded from PBS (apparently there is no plan to open Tier 3), and EU nationals are “third-country” nationals subject to the same immigration laws as everyone else, it is hard to see how the construction, hospitality and manufacturing sectors will cope with the demand for workers. Equally, the NHS will be under strain.
I expect more to come out of the final Brexit agreement. I certainly anticipate an opening up of the Tier 5 (temporary worker) category to include young Europeans.
How competitive is the legal market in the space at present?
It is very competitive. More and more firms are seeking to enter the space as it is seen as a growth area. At the same time, non-law firms (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner-regulated bodies) and alternative business structures such as the Big Four accountants have been investing in this service offering. We have to remain agile and focused on excellence of legal knowledge and client service.
What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the field of corporate immigration?
First, remember this is a service industry – it’s all about delivering the best possible service, on time. Your corporate client will have an internal client that they are answerable to and their requirements are paramount.
Second, learn how to manage the client without them realising they are being managed.
What is your proudest achievement to date?
Surviving this far.
Ben Sheldrick is a well-established name in the UK market who focuses his first-rate practice on business and private client immigration matters.
Ben Sheldrick is managing partner and head of business immigration at Magrath Sheldrick LLP Solicitors. He is also a director of Magrath Global (Singapore), which caters to an extensive corporate client base in the Asia Pacific region.
For many years, the legal community has recognised Ben as a leading UK immigration expert. He is ranked for his expertise in immigration law by the main professional directories, The Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners. He also appears in Legal Experts (published by Legal Business) and he is rated by Global Law Experts.
Ben has acted as immigration counsel to many household-name multinational companies. In particular, he has worked for a number of major City institutions operating within the financial services sector in London. He has spoken on numerous occasions to the International Mobility Banking Roundtable and other leading professional bodies.
He has experience in strategic immigration planning for large organisations and he assists international assignment departments and human resource managers in developing compliance and Legal Right to Work (LRTW) policies. This work has become increasingly important given the emphasis on devolved responsibility within current UK Tier 2 sponsorship policy.
Ben contributed to the development of the Points Based System (PBS) by organising and chairing stakeholder meetings with officials from UK Visas and Immigration as well as directors of PBS policy. He hosts seminars annually with representatives of UKVI and stakeholders from the business community to discuss developments in Immigration Law as they impact upon business and high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs.
He is an active member of the International Bar Association (IBA) immigration committee and he has spoken at a number of their conferences, both in the UK and around the world. Magrath Sheldrick LLP is one of the main sponsors of the biennial IBA Immigration Conference held in London.
Ben is co-editor of The Corporate Immigration Review, an annual publication that identifies trends in global immigration law issues attracting contributions from leading immigration and nationality practitioners around the world.
Ben and his team work closely with British American Business (BAB) the transatlantic business organisation dedicated to helping companies connect and build their business on both sides of the Atlantic. Magrath Sheldrick LLP hosts two business immigration conferences with BAB every year where they attract well known thinkers and policy stakeholders in the immigration field. Past speakers have included the Minister of State for Immigration, the Chairman of Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee and the Consul General of the US Embassy in London. Ben is a member of the BAB Policy Group and has helped draft their policy manifesto.
He has been closely involved with the Immigration Law Practitioner Association (ILPA) for many years and he has taught on a number of their training courses. He is also an associate member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and he attends the AILA global immigration forum annually.
Ben chairs an annual conference with the White Paper Conference Company on client-focused solutions for business immigration lawyers.
Ben is particularly interested in the development of immigration policy and the way successive UK governments have approached the conflict between the need to attract talent and investment from overseas and the political difficulties resulting from a popular perception of the negative impact of mass migration and weak immigration controls.
Ben and his team act as technical immigration partners to Expat-Academy, a leading industry forum for global mobility professionals. This year he will present a series of essential briefings on immigration law and his team will host a number of training sessions on global mobility issues for multinational companies.
Ben is recognised as a Thought Leader on Brexit by Who's Who Legal and speaks regularly to international businesses and other stakeholders on post-Brexit immigration policy.
Ben is a member of the International Association of Lawyers and the Investment Migration Council.
He also has a first-class degree in French literature from London University.