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This is the first of a three-part series on first steps to seeking immigration advice. This post points out things to be wary of, and may be part of Immigration Scams, as you begin your research. The second will discuss preparation before a consultation. The third will list questions you should ask your lawyer to determine if he or she is the right fit.

What to look out for when hiring an immigration attorney or consultant:

1. If someone tells you he or she is a lawyer, check with your state bar association to find out whether the individual is licensed to practice immigration law. In California, you can go to www.calbar.ca.gov.

2. Note that only an attorney or an accredited representative registered with the Executive Office of Immigration Review – part of the federal Department of Justice – can represent you in Immigration Court.

3. Don’t be confused by the title “notario.” In some countries, notaries are allowed to perform any legal services. In California, notaries or notaries public are not attorneys and are forbidden from giving any legal advice.

4. Consider carefully before hiring an “immigration consultant” who is not a lawyer. Immigration consultants can only provide non-legal help, like translating your answers to the questions on USCIS forms, getting copies of supporting documents, and, if you ask them to, submitting the forms to the USCIS. They cannot give legal advice or represent you in Immigration Court.

5. If using an immigration consultant, make sure that the consultant is registered in California. You can check online https://specialfilings.sos.ca.gov/icbs or call 916-653-3984. Immigration consultants must also provide you with evidence that they carry a $100,000 surety bond. You can check surety bond information at:
https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/general/immigration_consultants

6. Any attorney or immigration consultant must provide a written contract listing what the consultant will do and the costs for those services. It should be in English and in your native language or translated so that you completely understand its contents.

7. Do not give original documents, such as birth certificates or passports, to an immigration consultant. Make copies and keep the originals in a safe place.

8. Don’t trust someone who claims to have connections or special influence with any government office or agency, or who says he or she can guarantee results or faster processing.

9. Be wary of anyone who requires cash payments. Keep a paper trail – get copies of anything you sign, receipts and an accounting of bills paid.

10. Never pay for forms from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You can download forms for free at https://www.uscis.gov/forms. USCIS does not accept cash for filing fees – only money orders, personal checks or certified checks. If anyone asks you to provide cash to file USCIS forms, assume it’s a scam.

11. Don’t sign a blank document or any form that you do not understand or that contains false information. Ask for your paperwork back, and find another representative.

12. These are some common immigration related scams:

  • Making false promises or implying special influence with the
    USCIS. Nobody can guarantee you a work permit or any other
    immigration benefit.
  • Threatening arrest, fines, or deportation unless you pay money or reveal personal information.
  • Posing as an immigration consultant or lawyer when he or she is
    not qualified to do so.
  • Taking your money and not delivering any services
  • Persuading you to lie on an application or to an USCIS agent.
  • Keeping your original documents and charging money to get them back.
  • Filing applications that will not be approved, like filing an application for political asylum if you don’t qualify for asylum.
  • Charging you a total price for all services up front, then demanding more and more money to continue doing work
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