By Liz Daneu, Massachusetts Attorney
In a digital society with online access to forms, instruction booklets, and a plethora of research data, you might be wondering whether or not hiring an immigration lawyer to help meet your needs is worth the expense.
Considering that government fees for visas, adjustment, biometrics, and filing have been on a rising trend, you might be thinking it might make sense to cut costs and handle your immigration case on your own. Many simple immigration cases can be handled without legal representation, but immigration cases are rarely simple.
Here are just a few reasons why it's wise to seek the advice of a lawyer who specializes in immigration law. As you'll read below, navigating the complex framework of immigration laws and regulations, in addition to the laws and regulations of your individual state and/or country, can be challenging and even dangerous. Exclusion or deportation from the United States, and separation from loved ones as a result, is an all too real possibility.
Legal fees vary widely depending on the services needed. For example, hiring an attorney to help file a family-based immigration petition will be much less costly than hiring a lawyer to defend you in a deportation (removal) case before an immigration judge.
Here are some typical legal fees:
Some attorneys might charge much more if they have many years of experience, are working in major (expensive) U.S. cities such as New York or San Francisco, use specialized tools and processes, or have other reasons to command higher fees.
There are three main reasons to consider hiring a qualified immigration attorney:
Each of these presents unique problems for the prospective immigrant and requires careful analysis and expertise. With the right assistance, what seems like a potential obstacle might become an avenue to immigration to the United States.
It is estimated that hiring an immigration lawyer to complete your immigrant or nonimmigrant visa application can save you four to eight weeks in processing time.
An immigration lawyer knows exactly what types of visas or relief are available to you and can help you compile a valid and complete application the first time around. This will save you time and money, and could avoid your receiving a rejection of your application, or a request for more evidence (RFE).
Furthermore, a lawyer can prepare you for your interview at a consulate abroad, or at USCIS within the country. This greatly lowers the risk of a rejection of your application in its final stages.
Lastly, an immigration lawyer will evaluate the facts of your particular case and advise you on your probability of obtaining the type of visa or other immigration benefit you seek. The lawyer can help you avoid certain pitfalls that could lead to exclusion from entry into the U.S or deportation and a bar to re-entry. This could save you the trouble of being separated from friends, and loved ones for many years.
Applying for relief via a waiver, a visa, or adjustment of status brings someone to the attention of the immigration authorities, and could lead to deportation and/or exclusion. Imagine paying hefty filing fees and going through a months-long process only to be apprehended by DHS officials and placed in proceedings before the immigration court.
Depending on your particular situation, you might be in danger of being detained in a correctional facility or being deported and excluded from the U.S. for a period ranging from three to 20 years. (Every deportation comes with a bar upon return, with the number of years dependent on the reason for the removal.)
Because U.S. immigration law is federal and applies nationwide, while most crimes are prosecuted under state law, many non-citizens who've been arrested end up with something that doesn't even count as a conviction for state law purposes; but discover, to their horror, that it actually qualifies as a ground of deportation for immigration law purposes. A qualified immigration attorney can help you determine whether any past run-in with the law have placed you in jeopardy of deportation.
If you are seeking adjustment of status based on your marriage to, or engagement to a U.S. citizen, or if you're seeking another type of visa or asylum, you will want the advice of an immigration lawyer to determine whether you are better off leaving the U.S. and applying for relief at a consulate abroad, or remaining in the U.S. and going through the process (which could include proceedings in immigration court) within the United States.
If your adjustment must be decided upon in immigration court, you will not want to be facing an immigration judge on your own!
Many individuals want to know if there are ways to adjust their status from undocumented (illegal) to legal resident. An immigration lawyer can review the facts and help you determine what avenues, if any, are available to you.
If you have a potential path to a green card (such as a U.S. citizen spouse or adult child) but require a waiver of inadmissibility to cure your unlawful presence or record of committing certain crimes or fraud, you will want a qualified specialist helping you through this process. The risks are great and the harms (deportation and bars to re-entry) often cannot be undone.
When searching for a lawyer, beware of immigration centers or individuals who advertise the lowest price possible. They might not be lawyers at all, and might not put the type of expertise or commitment into your case that will be necessary.
Avoid the pitfalls by hiring a qualified immigration lawyer who belongs to a professional organization such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and who keeps up to date with the ever-changing trends in this complex area.