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What to expect when first seeking an attorney.

An immigration lawyer is an independent practitioner (unconnected to the U.S. immigration authorities) who helps clients deal with a wide range of issues relating visas, green cards, U.S. citizenship, and other immigration benefits. U.S. immigration law is federal, which means that you can get help from a lawyer in any U.S. state, even if you are currently living in another country.

Not all immigration issues require consultation with an immigration lawyer. For example, if you merely wish to visit the United States for a vacation, and are sure you will be ready to return in 90 days, you may not require any visa at all. However, U.S. immigration law is incredibly complex. In many cases, hiring an attorney can save you time, aggravation, and even money (in cases where you might have to redo an application done incorrectly the first time, or defend yourself in removal proceedings after an application goes seriously wrong).

When to Call an Immigration Lawyer

You will definitely want to consult with an attorney who practices immigration law if:

  • you are uncertain about your eligibility for a green card or other immigration benefit
  • you are requesting any sort of discretionary relief, such as asylum or a waiver, which involves persuading the immigration authorities to make an exception or offer you benefits that it might not ordinarily offer another applicant in your position
  • you are finding it difficult to obtain a USCIS green card, citizenship, or other immigration benefit
  • you need emergency help with an immigration matter
  • you have been notified that deportation or removal proceedings are being started against you
  • you have been deported from the U.S. and wish to apply to return
  • you have had an immigration application refused or denied
  • you have been convicted of a criminal offense or have committed a criminal offense and are trying to enter the U.S. or protect yourself from removal from the U.S.
  • you are planning to move to the U.S. to work for a U.S. employer and it has not assisted you with the immigration process
  • you have looked into the application process and realized that the number of forms and documents you must prepare is either too confusing or time-consuming to deal with on your own, or
  • you are applying for an investment-based visa.

These are just some of the reasons why you may choose to consult with an immigration lawyer — there are many others!

What to Expect at the Initial Meeting

Most immigration lawyers will charge a flat fee (often around $100) to meet with you and talk over whether and how the lawyer could, if you hired him or her, help you out. A few offer a free first consultation. You will probably want to meet with more than one attorneybefore choosing one to represent you.

Bring along any personal documents that relate to your immigration situation, such as your passport, visa(s), I-94, marriage certificate, records of criminal convictions, and any notices from immigration authorities. The lawyer is likely to ask a number of questions and take notes, and will then advise you as to how you should proceed, and whether there are any further documents that need to be produced or applied for.

Many immigration lawyers offer a flat-fee structure for standard types of cases, such as help with an application for a marriage-based green card. However, for less predictable types of legal services, such as representation for an immigration court hearing (which could turn into several hearings), the lawyer is more likely to charge you at an hourly rate.

This meeting is your chance to tell the attorney your circumstances and to ask questions. Give the attorney as much information as possible, so as to avoid mistakes in strategy or unpleasant surprises later. The attorney is duty-bound to keep your information confidential. Realize, however, that the attorney’s role does not include lying on behalf of a client. If, for example, someone tells an attorney, “I need help preparing paperwork for my fake, green-card marriage,” the attorney (assuming he or she is reputable, some are not) will have to tell the client to go elsewhere for help.



Whether you will need an immigration attorney will be determined by your reasons for entering the United States, and by your background.  If you just want to visit the U.S., you may not even need to obtain a visa.  Check with a U.S. consulate or embassy in your country to determine the visa requirements.

If you are coming to the United States as a result of a job offer from a U.S. employer, your prospective employer will probably either hire an attorney to do the work, or use someone on staff with specialized training in immigration procedures.

In many instances, you may consult an attorney because you are overwhelmed or frustrated by the process of obtaining a green card, or bringing a family member to the U.S., and have been unable to obtain assistance from the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  If you fear that there is something in your background that may prohibit you from obtaining a green card or bringing a family member to the U.S., or if you or a loved one have been contacted by the USCIS and threatened with deportation, it is well worth it to seek advice from an attorney. In some cases, failing to obtain the advice of an attorney could mean the difference between permanent residence and deportation.  Many immigration attorneys will give you a free consultation, or deduct the cost of the consultation from your total fees.

If any of the following descriptions apply to you, it will be worth your while to seek legal advice from an immigration attorney:

1. If you have committed or been convicted of any crime. Most USCIS forms ask whether you have committed or been convicted of a crime, and remember that you will be fingerprinted if you want to immigrate. While not all crimes create a barrier to immigration, if you make misrepresentations on your immigration forms, you risk deportation.

2.  If your prior applications have been denied.  An attorney should be able to determine what the problem is, and whether it can be remedied.

3.  If you have attempted the process on your own and simply cannot figure out what to do next.  The immigration process is notoriously complicated, and many individuals hire attorneys because they have reached the limits of their patience.  In many instances, it is better to hire an attorney rather than improvise and cause unnecessary delay in your immigration process.

4.  If you have been deported or otherwise forced to leave the United States.  Not all removals from the United States will result in permanent bars to immigration.

5.  If you have a communicable disease.  Not all diseases are a permanent bar to immigration.

6.  If you have filed your immigration forms and have been waiting an unreasonably long time for a response.  In many instances, a well-established immigration attorney will have relationships with USCIS personnel that can facilitate a timely determination of the status of your application.

7.  If you divorced your first U.S. spouse before the condition was removed from your permanent residence and you are now seeking to adjust status based on a marriage to another U.S. citizen.  In many instances it will be difficult to prove that your first marriage was not a sham.

8.  If your marriage to a U.S. citizen failed before you were able to file your petition to have the condition removed on your residency, and you will have to file alone.  The procedure for waiving the joint petition requirement can be extremely difficult, particularly when your former spouse and his or her family won’t provide you with any evidence that the marriage was not a sham.

9.  If you are immigrating with your family and you have a child that could reach age twenty-one before your permanent residence status is granted..  For example, if you are obtaining a green card through employment, your spouse and your children under the age of twenty-one will also be eligible for green cards.  In such a case, you will want to consult an attorney to determine the most expeditious method of processing your paperwork.

10.  If you are obtaining a visa or green card based on an employment offer, but your prospective employer has not offered to handle the immigration process.  The process of obtaining a visa or green card based on employment offers is complicated.  Failure to follow procedures correctly can result in lengthy delays.


When Do You Need an Immigration Lawyer?

There are numerous situation in which you’ll need an immigration lawyer’s help — or will save yourself a lot of time and aggravation by getting it.

You are not required to have a lawyer when applying for an immigrant visa or green card in the United States or overseas. If you have a straightforward case, are clearly eligible for the benefit you seek, and have no record of crimes or negative run-ins with immigration authorities, you can potentially proceed all the way to a visa or green card without a lawyer. In fact, if you are overseas, lawyers cannot attend consular interviews with you, though they are allowed to prepare the paperwork and have follow-up communications with the consulates.

However, there are numerous types of situation when you’ll need a lawyer’s help — or will save yourself a lot of time and aggravation by getting it. Immigration law is notoriously, insanely complicated, and it’s run by a bureacuracy that receives less oversight and public scrutiny than you might expect. So, let’s look at some of the most likely situations.

If You Are in Immigration Court Proceedings

If you are or have ever been in immigration court deportation (removal) proceedings, run, don’t walk to see a lawyer. If the proceedings are not yet finished or are on appeal, your entire immigration situation is in the power of the courts — and you will not get anywhere trying to use the same application procedures as people who are not in proceedings. Even if the proceedings are over, you should ask a lawyer whether the outcome affects your current application.

If You Are Inadmissible

The most common legal issue encountered by would-be immigrants is the claim by USCIS or the consulate that they are inadmissible for one or more of the reasons listed in the article, “Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.” Possible examples include having committed a crime or previously lied to the U.S. government. If you know that any of these grounds apply to you, it makes sense to get legal help before you begin the application process.

If You Are Overwhelmed by the Paperwork

Even the simplest of U.S. immigration applications involves filling out some forms, and you will most likely be asked to follow some detailed instructions about gathering and including other paperwork and fees. Make a mistake, and you may find your application returned, delayed, or even rejected.

Immigration lawyers have dealt with this paperwork countless times before you, and have both the knowledge and the streamlined systems to prepare the applications smoothly. They have computer programs in which they can enter your information and spit out the forms in an instant. Hiring a lawyer can be well worth it for the peace of mind alone.

If You Are Encountering Delays

Another circumstance that often drives people to lawyers is the failure of USCIS or the consulate to act on or approve the application, for reasons that have more to do with bureaucracy than law. For example, an applicant who moves from Los Angeles to San Francisco after filing the green card application might find that the application, which should be transferred to the San Francisco USCIS office, has instead disappeared into a bureaucratic black hole for months. Delays at the USCIS Service Centers are also far too common.

Lawyers do not have a lot of power in such circumstances. But at least the lawyer may have access to inside fax or email inquiry lines, where they (and only they) can ask about delayed or problematic cases. Unfortunately, even lawyers have trouble getting answers to such inquiries, but it’s often worth a try.



Whatever you do, don’t rely on advice by USCIS information officers. Seriously. Would you want the receptionist in your doctor’s office to tell you whether to get brain surgery? Asking USCIS information officers for advice about your case (beyond basic procedural advice such as where to file an application and what the fees are) is equally unsafe. The people who staff USCIS phone and information services are not experts. USCIS takes no responsibility if their advice is wrong—and won’t treat your application with any more sympathy. Even following the advice of officials higher up in the agency may not be safe. Always get a second, preferably lawyer’s opinion.

By Ilona Bray J.D. – NOLO.COM

Immigration Attorneys Miami