My Path to Immigration Law
Head of Commercial, Jemima Johnstone, shares her unconventional path to law.
My Path to Immigration Law
How did you get into immigration law?
I took the ‘non-law’ path into immigration. I studied History at Oxford followed by a Masters at City University in Museum & Gallery Management. I then completed the GDL & LPC at the University of Law.
The opportunity to join DavidsonMorris came up just as the UK’s immigration points-based system was being introduced. I had a background in company secretary roles from my work in the arts sector and I brought a lot of practical experience of company structures, which was useful when making those first applications to the Home Office under what was then a new regime. I’ve since built up my knowledge of the rules, qualified as a solicitor and now head up the commercial team at DavidsonMorris.
Describe a typical day for you.
I deal with HR departments and business owners. I help with their Home Office applications for sponsor licences and renewals and visa applications for their sponsored workers. My workload is as varied as my client base. Some queries are straightforward, others more complex or challenging, especially if there is time pressure involved – a client has missed a deadline or has an urgent application that needs to go over to the Home Office within hours!
I also spend time presenting training webinars and visiting clients onsite.
What are the challenges in your role?
We’re a really busy practice, so managing workload and juggling priorities is an everyday challenge. If something new comes in with an imminent deadline, we will always pull out the stops and pull together to get the result.
Immigration law also has a lot of grey areas. The legislation isn’t always clear, and large areas are covered only by guidance, which can make interpretation and application interesting to say the least!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
A couple of things stand out for me. I enjoy helping people through the maze of UK immigration rules. Because we have day to day dealings with the Home Office, we have a real insight into the workings of UKVI – protocol, what caseworkers are looking for in applications. We use this knowledge to help our clients.
I also like being part of a team. If you’re working with people who are passionate and skilled at what they do, and you have your processes right – it’s hugely rewarding when you get the result for the client. You also have a lot of direct client contact and get to build-up long-term relationships with a company and its people.
Why choose a career in business immigration?
Even in corporate immigration, it feels like you’re doing something worthwhile. Home Office applications can be hugely stressful for applicants and the visa decision affects people’s lives – where they live, where they work, where their children are brought up. If someone has decided they want to come to the UK – we’re here to make it happen for them. For businesses, bringing the right people to the UK means the company can take the next step and achieve its goals. So it really does matter.
And something I think immigration has over other areas of law is that you get to solve practical problems within a manageable timeframe. Matters tend to be subject to deadlines so they don’t drag on for years.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in business immigration?
Immigration itself is diverse, with areas such as human rights and asylum as well as corporate immigration and helping private individuals. Try and gain experience of the area you’re interested in to get a feel for the nature of the work, client interaction etc.
There are lots of ways to get into immigration law, and I’ve worked with people with all sorts of professional backgrounds – law graduates, paralegals, ex-Home Office caseworkers, OISC practitioners. I wanted to qualify as a solicitor to have that autonomy over my own workload and to build and manage my own team.
For me, being a ‘non-law’ graduate and having a less conventional professional background was the reason I was given the opportunity to work in immigration law. I think the ability to bring a different perspective is a huge advantage. You are literally dealing with people from all over the world and every application has unique circumstances and challenges – so having broader exposure to the commercial world is really beneficial.