Housing association Arhag has begun a programme to train staff to give immigration advice as part of its expansion to provide greater services to the migrant community.
The BME association wants to become a ‘go to’ organisation in London – adding a range of non-housing services.
Arhag tenancy officer Abeer Suleiman (pictured) has recently completed a four-month secondment to prepare for the level one immigration advice accreditation from the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).
Her eventual aim is to progress to at least level two.
Once qualified she will be the first member of staff at Arhag equipped to give immigration advice at the HA, although others are likely to follow.
Arhag chief executive, Cedric Boston, said: “As far as I know we are the first housing association to offer this training to staff.
“It is an important step towards increasing our offering to the migrant and refugee community we are serving.”
Abeer has undertaken hands-on training with Praxis Community Projects, a charity which provides specialist advice and other support for vulnerable migrants, based in Tower Hamlets, East London.
She spent three days a week on the programme, shadowing a supervisor for two days and undergoing practical training on the other day.
Abeer said: “It’s very helpful work. I’ve been learning my way round the forms that have to be filled in for particular cases, like further leave to remain and writing letters to councils.
“I can already see it is going to be a great help dealing with our residents.
“Once I’ve got the exam I will be able to help residents navigate the many and complicated number of forms that are out there I’ll also be able to advise them on their options.”
Praxis has worked closely with Arhag for a number of years and the two organisations jointly organised a conference examining issues around housing migrants in June.
Praxis is ideally positioned to provide the training as it provides holistic support to migrants, many of whom are not eligible for benefits and are consequently extremely vulnerable.
Last year Praxis worked on 2,010 advice cases of which 77% were not eligible for Legal Aid, gave specialist advice and casework to almost 1,500 people of whom 41% had no recourse to public funds, and provided 11,737 nights of safe accommodation to vulnerable people.
Bethan Lant, Praxis casework manager, said: “We are pleased to have had Abeer learning within our team.
“There is a huge shortage of accredited immigration advice, so it will be a really positive step for Arhag.
“Under supervision at Praxis, Abeer has experienced a range of immigration issues including applications for asylum, applying for citizenship or settlement, and advising European citizens on their rights in the UK.”