A SHORTAGE of publicly- funded solicitors is leading to an "advice desert" over immigration issues in Huddersfield, it is said.
Only one lawyer in Huddersfield, paid through the Legal Aid scheme, deals with the subject.
Ros Stinton, manager of Huddersfield Citizens' Advice Bureau, said: "We get quite a few inquiries about immigration. It is hard to find somewhere to refer people to."
The bureau received 450 immigration inquiries in the 12 months to the end of 2003, out of 25,000 inquiries overall.
The CAB itself deals with minor issues, such as advising people who want to bring relatives into the country.
But anything more complicated needs a solicitor.
Ms Stinton added: "It is very important that people have access to a specialist solicitor - otherwise they may be deported."
Mr Michael Webb, president of Huddersfield Law Society, said changes about four years ago meant that people could receive publicly- funded legal advice only from the few firms that had a Legal Aid franchise for a particular area.
"Quality control is the peg it is hung on - but saving money is the reality," he added.
Mrs Karen Woodhead, a partner in Parker Bird solicitors, Queen Street, Huddersfield, the only firm with the Legal Aid franchise for immigration, said: "We get clients from a much wider area than Huddersfield, such as Leeds and Barnsley.
"It is very demanding, stressful work and, like all publicly-funded work, it is not very well paid."
In yesterday's Examiner Mr Ranjit Uppal, a solicitor specialising in immigration law at Parker Bird, voiced his fears that many asylum seekers will be prevented from receiving a fair hearing in April, when Legal Aid is to be slashed to a quarter of its present level.
People seeking asylum in Britain will have the 20 free hours of legal advice to which they are now entitled cut to five.
The Huddersfield findings on the solicitors shortage are in line with national CAB statistics.
A report found that more than two- thirds of CABs reported difficulties finding a publicly-funded immigration lawyer.
Nationally, the CAB says that access to Legal Aid solicitors in England and Wales is a postcode lottery with a quarter reporting an "advice desert".
People facing the threat of homelessness or domestic violence are having to travel more than 50 miles to find someone able to take up their employment, housing or family law case.
Only one Legal Aid solicitor deals with housing in Dewsbury and Wakefield and people have to travel 10 miles to see their nearest employment solicitor.
No housing advice is available in Barnsley and only one firm of solicitors provides housing advice in Bradford.