Ben is a managing partner and head of business immigration at Magrath Sheldrick, one of the UK’s leading commercial immigration practices. He is recognised as a leading 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.
What motivated you to specialise in corporate immigration law?
Like many people, my career has evolved over time and is a consequence of evolution rather than revolution. I started at the Bar as a criminal law practitioner and I began picking up immigration appeal matters at the tribunal. After a while I went in-house and undertook increasing amounts of business-related work. I have built up a large business immigration practice over a 20-year period.
How has your previous experience as a criminal barrister enhanced your work in private practice?
Criminal practice teaches you to be forensic and detail-oriented, and to think quickly on your feet. You also have to deal with a wide range of diverse and challenging people. These are valuable skills for any lawyer.
What qualities make for an effective corporate immigration lawyer?
Corporate immigration law requires a number of skills beyond simply being a good technical lawyer. It is imperative to understand the value of client service and the need to provide succinct, strategic advice in a non-legal way and, most importantly, in a timely fashion. Most of our clients have their own internal clients to whom they are answerable. Being able to manage client expectations is essential.
How does Magrath Sheldrick stand out from its competitors in the market?
The immigration market is quite a crowded place now because so many firms see it as a growth area – even more so now, given the Brexit context.
The key is to provide outstanding service 100 per cent of the time. Some of the big firms provide highly transactional services in a very process-driven way. There is certainly some value in developing processes that can deliver economies of scale; however, it is easy to lose the client experience in this way – and that is something we are determined not to do.
What impact has immigration policy development had on the type of work you have received over the past five years?
Despite attempts by successive governments to create streamlined, efficient and transparent processes that are easy to understand and navigate by employers and potential migrants, the effect has often been the opposite. Employers have become weighed down by a vast range of compliance, reporting and record-keeping obligations while individual applicants find it very difficult to navigate endless pages of Home Office guidance. This has undoubtedly increased demand for immigration professionals.
The other major factor over the past few years has been the increase in government fees, levies and taxes in relation to inward immigration. The drive to reduce net migration down to “sustainable levels” (defined by the government as less than 100,000 annually) resulted in a range of efforts to reduce “pull factors”. First among these is the massive increase in overall costs.
The May administration (by which I mean Theresa May’s time as home secretary, as well as prime minister) took away many routes of entry to the UK for economic and skilled migrants, and chose instead to focus on sponsor compliance and net migration targets. I hope 2020 will see a shift towards a more diverse and innovative range of immigration options.
What impact has Brexit had on your clients, and how has it changed your approach to advising them?
Brexit has been going on for a very long time. It became apparent some time ago that, regardless of deal or no-deal, there would have to be a transition period to a new immigration regime in 2021 at the earliest. A “hard Brexit” for immigration purposes would be impossible to manage, potentially causing a breakdown at the ports of entry. The unilateral approach to the movement of people adopted by the government in the event of no-deal, including the introduction of a European temporary leave-to-remain scheme, closely mirrors the transitional arrangements under the withdrawal agreement. This fact has provided clients with some comfort in a very uncertain environment. On the other hand, in a no-deal scenario the position of UK nationals living and working across the EU27 will be dependent on the national laws and policies of each individual member state; so we have done a lot of work in putting together guidance on this outcome for our clients.
Brexit has generated a significant increase in advisory and strategic work in addition to the transactional casework. Our clients have become increasingly alert to the significance of change in the legal space and we have seen a major uptick in interest in our alerts, briefings and training sessions. I have enjoyed this side of the Brexit crisis. Next year will be very interesting, assuming we enter into an implementation period, as we prepare for the new immigration schemes to be developed and introduced.
Where, in your opinion, does the future of the practice area lie?
If the UK leaves the European Union as planned, there will inevitably be greater focus on the legal framework of immigration controls in the future. Future practice lies across a range of inbound UK schemes, both corporate and private client. The UK will continue to attract foreign investment. Our economy will require human capital at all skill levels. There is plenty of scope for business growth for immigration practitioners.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
Keep calm and carry on.
Ben Sheldrick is distinguished by peers for his “fine commercial mind” and by clients as a “real joy to work with”.
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.