Do-It-Yourself Immigration: Are Kits or Form Services Worth It?

Are do-it-yourself immigration kits any good? Don't get fooled into wasting your time and money with these tips on what to look for.

There are numerous websites purporting to offer immigration kits, form instructions, and even filing services, but are they any good?

U.S. immigration laws are as complex as one can imagine, and the bureaucracy is frustrating to work with even if you do everything right. So, if you can afford an experienced attorney to handle your immigration application or case, it is well worth the money, and will save you time and headaches.

Save on Legal Fees With a Kit?

If you cannot afford an attorney, a do-it-yourself immigration kit can work. It will work best if your case is a straightforward one and you are comfortable following directions and making independent judgments (for example, regarding which documents of yours will most effectively prove a bona fide marriage).

Be Skeptical – And Know What To Look For

The key is to make sure you are using a high-quality kit -- not just one that packages together the forms that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) already provides for free, with a few scant words of one-size-fits-all advice. Some things to look for in a kit are:

  1. Written by an attorney who is actively practicing immigration law and is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Google the author's name -- most attorneys now have their own website.
  2. Updated regularly. If the kit is two years old or older, chances are very high that the forms, procedures, fees, and even the applicable laws have changed. Submitting an out of date form, or sending it to the wrong address, will result in your packet being returned and you losing valuable time. Certain changes may not be widely publicized, and only experienced immigration attorneys are aware of them. Also, many U.S. embassies and consulates abroad have their own set of local rules, which change frequently; only attorneys who deal with the embassy or consulate regularly are aware of such changes.
  3. Explanatory text that covers exceptions, special situations, and things to watch out for.

Consider Investing Your Money and Time in a Comprehensive Book

In point of fact, very few kits meet the above criteria. To be safe, you should buy a book that fully explains the visa or immigration benefit that you are applying for, such as one of the highly rated books from Nolo. We’ve been evangelizing the library of legal books available from Nolo for years, and with good reason. They’ve been in the business for over forty years. Nobody has more experience in do-it-yourself legal products – and no one has won more awards and praise.

These books go beyond just helping you complete the forms. They walk you through the legal issues in plain English so you can understand how the law applies in your case. If you’re willing to invest an evening reading through the applicable book, you’ll be well prepared to handle your immigration case without paying an attorney to do the work for you. And if it turns out that your case really does require a professional, Nolo will tell you so, and help you work effectively with an attorney so you don’t wind up paying for more legal help than you really need.

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