Matthew Davies is a graduate of Oxford University and the College of Law (now the University of Law). He has over two decades’ specialist experience as a corporate immigration lawyer based in the City of London and, more recently, the West Midlands, having initially practised general employment law. Matthew’s practice encompasses global mobility advice to international corporations and regional employers, sponsor licensing and compliance, illegal working investigations and resolving problem cases for corporate clients.
What motivated you to specialise in corporate immigration law?
I qualified into the employment law department of a leading City of London firm with a strong entertainment practice, which generated significant immigration-related advice needs for film companies, and the support teams of major figures in the music, theatre and film worlds, that we were expected to handle. This coincided with the rapid growth of business immigration as a distinct legal discipline, and a new government and immigration policy. I seized the challenge and quickly became absorbed in the work; after a few months I knew I needed to specialise and moved to a boutique immigration firm to gain accelerated experience in a practice that was ahead of the market.
Which difficulties would you identify in the UK immigration system that consistently impact most classes of applications?
Inconsistency in decision-making; serial government failure to anticipate the practical effects of planned legal and policy changes on its own digital systems, resulting in delays and error; under-resourcing of high-demand economic migration case working.
What role do you see immigration playing in the Brexit agenda, considering the shifts in public perception and government policy?
Immigration was a dominant theme in the pre-referendum campaign and was arguably the most significant issue of all in propelling the Leave vote. I am struck by how far it has dropped down the agenda since, with only a quarter of survey respondents citing it as the top Brexit issue today. Those most concerned about the supposed effects on them of large-scale inward immigration may erroneously assume that Brexit will curb it. I also believe that there is a growing recognition of the futility of an undeliverable and now-abandoned numerical cap, and of the immediate threat to the UK’s competitiveness of discouraging skilled migration from the EEA and wider world in the face of a new international isolation. Shocking news stories about the exploitation of, and danger to, vulnerable migrants through modern slavery and illegal trafficking seem more likely than before to generate public empathy with the victims and a desire to tackle the root causes of instability in the world.
How will the lack of cooperation with Europe post-Brexit increase opportunities for criminals and fraudsters to slip through the net?
Sadly, all too easily. The UK remains a destination of choice for the ill-intentioned as well as the desperate, and the loss of cross-border cooperation as a result of leaving the EU removes obligation, funding and incentive from our partners to address a problem that crosses the continent.
What challenges will the move to cloud-based security and electronic passports present for the immigration system?
We are already seeing, with the government decision not to issue new biometric residence permits to EEA nationals and dependants with settled status under the new EU settled scheme, that cloud-based identity and status can be unreliable and difficult to access. Experience should have taught successive UK governments that costs are always greater, and reliability less, than technology-based solutions appear to offer at the outset. Most worrying of all is the struggle that law enforcement agencies everywhere have to stay on top of sophisticated online fraud and identity theft, and how victims are too often left unprotected and bereft. Ensuring top-level security and backup in the event of hacking and exploitation must be at the heart of any move. It must not be a cost-cutting measure, but one requiring serious investment.
How do you seek to manage client frustrations when there are practical difficulties and delays at the application stages?
By managing expectations from the outset; using our experience to understand the systems and their shortcomings backwards; staying on top of each legal and practical change as it happens; and reacting fast when something goes wrong – always having a “plan B” in mind.
How does Wright Hassall distinguish itself from the competition?
We believe in respectful collaboration with our colleagues in the immigration law world, and that there is room for all advisers who are committed to client delivery and the highest ethical standards. That said, we combine international reach with top national quality and local connection to our regional economy, without compromising excellence in any of them. From the heart of England, we can reach all of the UK and beyond from a lower cost base than London and match any practice for responsiveness, expertise and depth of experience.
How would you like to develop your practice in the next five years?
I expect to maintain the quality and integrity of our offering and to play our part in a wider debate that shapes a responsible, balanced immigration policy, harnessing the best, and anticipating the most problematic, of the technological changes that will revolutionise the business world. I want to create opportunities for the excellent generation of immigration lawyers who join our team and are building their careers in the profession.