Everybody likes a good bargain or discount. But when your immigration status is involved, it is important to make sure that the low, low price you are being offered is not a scam.
Just because a business says that they are immigration professionals, does not mean that they are authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to petition for a visa on your behalf. The USCIS provides guidelines on who may provide U.S. immigrant and nonimmigrant services, so you should stay informed so that you do not hand your money over to an unauthorized immigration business.
Even if you cannot afford to hire an immigration attorney to provide a full service experience, there are a variety of ways that you can save money without falling prey to an immigration con. If you decide to do some of the application work yourself, there are methods for obtaining legitimate professional help with your case.
The USCIS only authorizes two categories of persons to be immigration service providers. The first group of approved persons, of course, are immigration law attorneys who are members of a state bar.
Additionally, non-attorneys who are accredited by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Access Programs (OLAP) that work for DOJ-recognized organizations can legally provide immigration services. A business that advertises that they are an authorized immigration service provider should be able to provide a customer with a current certification from the DOJ OLAP.
Authorized immigration service providers can perform the following tasks:
- Give advice on which immigration forms to submit
- Explain the immigration options that are available
- Communicate with the USCIS about a foreign national’s case
It is important to note; however, that an immigration service provider is not authorized to engage in the practice of law unless they are a licensed American attorney.
Immigration Law Attorneys in the United States
The best immigration lawyers in the United States tend to be those who deal with the U.S. immigration services on a regular basis. Attorneys who merely dabble in immigration law may not be as well-informed about the latest policies in the field.
The good news is that the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is federal law. Therefore, attorneys can be licensed in any of the 50 states and be qualified to practice immigration law.
Law Students and Law School Graduates
Going to law school or graduating with a juris doctor (JD) does not allow law students and law school graduates to practice immigration law. Therefore, such persons may not provide immigration services for clients independently until they pass a state bar exam.
However, law students and JDs can assist clients under the supervision of a licensed U.S. immigration attorney. Moreover, other office staff may complete forms and draft simple documents to be reviewed and signed by their supervising lawyer.
An accredited representative who is authorized by the DOJ OLAP can provide certain immigration services in the United States. Further, they may be able to represent a foreign national before the USCIS. Others may be authorized to serve as a representative before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
If a foreign national has engaged an immigration law attorney or an accredited representative to serve as the petitioner on their application, an additional form is required to be submitted to the USCIS.
The Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative, is a form which provides the U.S. immigration service with the contact information and credentials of the immigration service provider. Foreign nationals who elect to submit their forms without legal representation do not need to complete a Form G-28.
2. Help from a Reputable Individual
If someone wants to forego hiring an immigration law attorney or an accredited representative, they may still be able to get some assistance from a reputable individual. A reputable individual can provide some limited help, such as reading a form, translating, and writing down the information provided by the foreign national.
However, a reputable individual cannot give advice on which immigration forms to submit, or explain the immigration options that are available, or communicate with the USCIS on behalf of the applicant or petitioner in a case.
Qualifying pre-existing relationships include relative, neighbor, clergy, business associate, or friend.
3. Avoid Notario Fraud
The term notario (or notario publico) is literally translated from Spanish to mean “notary public.” In many Latin American (and European) countries a notario publico is someone who has a license to practice law and can lawfully represent clients in legal matters. However, a notary public in the United States is authorized only to witness the signature of forms.
Notario immigration fraud occurs when an individual becomes a licensed notary public in the United States and then falsely advertises to the public that he or she is capable of practicing immigration law in the United States. Notario publico scams are particularly effective because immigrants often mistakenly believe that the notario is qualified to provide them with legal services.
Be aware that notarios are sometimes also referred to as visa consultants or immigration consultants. All of such individuals are not authorized to practice immigration law in the United States. They can only provide very limited immigration services such as reading a form, translating, and filling out the information provided by an applicant or petitioner in an application form.
4. Ways to Spot an Immigration Rip-off
It can be scary to learn that there are fraudulent businesses out there that are on a mission to take the money of foreign nationals and run off without providing any real services. One way to fight back against such sketchy places is to learn how to spot them ahead of time.
There are no guarantees
First and foremost, no immigration service provider should be guaranteeing an approval of your application. Only a USCIS adjudicator or immigration judge can decide whether your petition should be approved.
There is no charge to download a form
All of the immigration application forms are available for free in PDF format on the USCIS website. The U.S. immigration service also provides downloadable instructions for the forms. Therefore, you should be wary of an organization that wants to charge you to download an immigration petition form.
Watch out for inflated filing fees
The USCIS also publishes the costs for filing immigration forms. It is prudent to check the U.S. immigration service website for the exact charges to submit a petition. That way, an unlawful business will not overcharge you by padding the filing fees for their own personal profit.
Never sign a blank form
Obviously, you should never sign a form that does not have the information filled in. Signing a blank form could mean that inaccurate information is being provided to the USCIS. If you signed the page with the incorrect statements, you could be the one who gets in trouble.
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