Immigration solicitors seeking a loosening in regulatory red tape are likely to have to jump through another hoop if they take that option.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority today proposed to change its rules to allow a solicitor carrying out immigration work to operate from an unregulated body.

On the surface, the relaxation of regulations tying practitioners to firms would extend to immigration solicitors the freedoms granted to most other solicitors through reforms which came into force last November. However solicitors working in a business regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) will additionally need to register with the organisation, which will in effect take precedence as their lead regulator when they are doing the work.

The proposals, outlined in a consultation which opens today, are the SRA’s attempt to clear up an issue that has remained unresolved since November. The SRA said it had been asked by the OISC not to include immigration in scaled-back restrictions and the existing arrangements remained in place.

Under the proposals, solicitors who are not registered with the OISC cannot provide immigration services from an OISC body. They can continue to provide immigration (without OISC registration) if they do it from a law firm regulated by the SRA. They will also be able to provide advice when working in-house for other organisations not falling into either category.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: ‘Immigration is a complex area of law which deals often with vulnerable people, so it’s important that there is clarity about the regulation of those delivering immigration services.

‘Our proposals achieve this by making a clear distinction between when the SRA is responsible for regulating a service provider, and those who work for them, and when it is OISC.’

Solicitors and OISC-regulated advisers account for the majority of legal representatives actively working in the immigration advice sector, with 3,135 advisers registered with the OISC and 5,364 solicitors who record with the SRA that they so some kind of immigration work.

The SRA has also said it wants to begin a longer-term programme of activities focused on the immigration advice and services sector. This will help it to understand how regulatory arrangements might need to evolve to quickly respond to risks within the sector as they emerge. Consultation is open until 22 April.