Legal News - Ask the right questions, avoid immigration pitfalls

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The process of immigrating to the United States is one of the most important life experiences many people will go through. Settling in another country is usually complex and stressful and the consequences of failing to plan properly can lead to nightmare scenarios. It is not a surprise, therefore, that many people turn to immigration lawyers to assist with the process.

But how do you decide if you need an immigration lawyer? How do you select the right immigration lawyer? There is no exact recipe for addressing these questions. But, I will try to answer some of the basic questions that will put you on the right path.

Do you need a lawyer?

The old saying "He who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer" applies to immigration law like many other types of legal matters. Immigration law, particularly American immigration law, is one of the most politically divisive areas of the legal system and it is therefore not surprising that it has grown incredibly dense and is constantly changing. No fewer than three major agencies administer the U.S. immigration system and dozens of other agencies play a role. Many people turn to agencies like the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Department of State to determine how to immigrate to the U.S.

While web sites and concerted efforts by these agencies to provide better information to the public are starting to bear fruit, it could be a grave mistake to rely on government agencies for legal advice relating to immigrating the U.S. Why? Consider the following: they have no responsibility or liability for information they provide; they are enforcement agencies and the mindset at the agencies is often to keep out as many people as possible; information officers are frequently not adequately trained in immigration law and do not keep up with the latest developments; and individual case situations differ dramatically and agencies do not have the resources to properly assess your case and advise on how to proceed.

Even if you can manage to succeed filing yourself, your lack of experience could lead to mistakes that can be costly in terms of time and money. If you have to hire a lawyer later, your mistakes may limit your options and immigration lawyers are likely to charge more to clean up the mess.

A good immigration lawyer should be able to give you an honest and thorough assessment of your case and be able to explain the options that are available to you based on not only the current law, but changes that are in the legislative and judicial pipeline at any given time. The lawyer can then work with you to prepare your case and represent you in front of the administrative agency handling your petition. The lawyer should be able to explain to the government agency why your case meets the requirements of the law, and, if problems arise, the lawyer often has additional resources available to help resolve the issue or can prepare your case for an appeal.

What "immigration consultants"?

In most states, people who work as immigration consultants are violating the law by practicing law without a license. Because these individuals are operating illegally, their work is not regulated and you do not have the same recourse available to go after someone who is dishonest or incompetent.

The U.S. government does not recognize immigration consultants and will not allow them to intervene on your behalf should a problem arise in your case.

Many immigration consultants insist that they are merely assisting people in completing forms. But even the government has warned the public that the process of applying for a visa or citizenship is more than just form filling. There are regulations behind most of the questions asked on immigration forms and questions that may seem straightforward are actually designed to elicit information relating to a complicated matter of law.

What should you look for?

There are a number of factors to consider when hiring an immigration lawyer, and with more than 7,500 immigration lawyers practicing in the U.S., the process of selecting the right lawyer can be difficult.

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