You aren’t legally required to hire an immigration lawyer to represent you in your immigration matter. Many people choose to handle their immigration cases themselves. But sometimes, it helps to have a trained immigration professional to advocate for you, especially if there’s a lot at stake, such as getting asylum or avoiding deportation. This article will discuss when and why it is a good idea to hire an immigration lawyer and how to select the best one.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Do I Need to Have an Immigration Lawyer?
When handling an immigration issue, immigration law does not require you to have an attorney. Still, it may help to pursue legal services depending on your specific situation. Here are some factors you’ll want to consider:
How complicated is your case? You may not need a lawyer if you apply to become a permanent resident through a standard U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) form. However, if you are facing a complex situation where the immigration system keeps changing, like with DACA, you may want legal advice.
What is at stake? If a mistake could cause a change in your immigration status and potential deportation, it may be critical to have a lawyer. However, you may not need legal representation if you will only lose the filing fee and have to temporarily delay your travel while waiting for an immigrant visa.
Do you have the time and access to information to handle your immigration process or situation yourself? If you are familiar with the application process or have family members who can help, you may be well suited to handle your own case. Otherwise, you may want to consider pursuing advice from an experienced immigration attorney.
If I Don’t Need an Immigration Attorney, Why Hire One?
There are many benefits to hiring a U.S. immigration attorney. They may be able to help you in any of the following ways:
They can spot potential issues or concerns that could lead to USCIS denying your application or even deportation.
They can help you figure out which immigration benefits you meet the eligibility requirements for. Immigration law is complicated. You may be eligible for a visa or green card you didn’t know about.
They can monitor the progress of your case and contact the appropriate office if processing is delayed on your application.
They can represent you in immigration interviews or before an immigration judge if you face removal proceedings.
They can handle complex scenarios, such as an immigration appeals procedure, deportation defenses, or asking for waivers of inadmissibility.
How Much Does an Immigration Lawyer Cost?
Many immigration law firms charge a flat fee instead of an hourly rate. A flat fee means you will pay one preset amount regardless of how many hours your lawyer spends on your case.
The amount will depend on where you live and how complicated your case is.
For example, if you live in Northern California, the price range for hiring a lawyer for a fiancé visa ranges from $750 to $2,000. Hiring a lawyer for a green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident would cost $800 to $4,000. Typically you will also be responsible for paying the form filing fees.
Some law firms do charge per hour, especially for particularly complicated cases. For example, if you hire an attorney to handle a removal proceeding in immigration court, they may charge you per hour or bill for each stage of the process (the bond hearing, negotiation, filing motions, etc.) This cost could range from $1,500 to $10,000, depending on how challenging your case is. The hourly rate will likely fall between $100 to $350 an hour.
How Do You Find a Good Immigration Lawyer?
Finding the best immigration lawyer for you is essential to maximize your chances of success. Be aware that scammers and other unreputable immigration professionals are looking to make money off vulnerable people.
Here are some different strategies for searching for a high-quality lawyer:
Ask someone you trust for a referral. If your friend has a lawyer, even one focusing on a different practice area, the lawyer likely will have a network of other lawyers they can recommend to you.
Get a referral from a professional legal organization or bar association. These groups of lawyers may be able to help match you with the right lawyer depending on your case. The American Bar Association is the largest association of lawyers in the world. For immigration, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is the most prominent one. They can help you find a lawyer depending on your subcategory, such as employment sponsorship for a work visa or adjusting your status from nonimmigrant to immigrant.
Check lawyer directories. The American Bar Association keeps a reputable lawyer directory, with entries for each state.
Contact or check the sites of reputable legal aid or community organizations, especially ones focused on helping immigrants. Some of these organizations may even provide pro bono or free help if you have financial need.
Contact your state bar association to check that the attorney you choose is licensed to practice in your state and is in good standing.
Check client reviews for your attorney online.
How Do I Know if an Immigration Attorney Is Right for Me?
After creating a list of potential candidates, you will want to pick which one is right for you.
For many, the cost of legal services is a critical factor to consider. However, also keep in mind that picking a lawyer is a subjective process, similar to picking a job candidate to hire. You want your lawyer to meet basic requirements, such as certain certifications and years of experience. However, you also want to pick someone who you like and have a positive relationship with.
Learn More About a Potential Immigration Attorney
It is important to learn more about your potential attorney before hiring them. Usually, you can get more information by contacting lawyers and meeting for an initial consultation. You can also research your lawyer online.
Initially, you will need to reach out to a lawyer. Usually, you can do this by calling or emailing them or filling out a form on their website. Briefly explain what kind of services you need and ask the lawyer if they can address what you are looking for.
For example, you may explain that you need help with a certain type of case, such as applying for asylum. Ask the lawyer if they handle asylum cases and are currently taking on new clients.
After you reach out to the lawyer, you will likely hear back from them and set up an initial meeting. This meeting may happen in person or on a phone call. Many lawyers offer free initial consultations, which often last about 20 minutes.
During this meeting, you can ask the lawyer more detailed questions, including:
How much do you charge, and how do you bill for your services?
What type of cases do you usually handle? For example, if you are applying for a U.S. visa as a foreign national, you would not want a lawyer who focuses on removal proceedings.
What are the next steps I could take for my specific case?
How long have you been practicing immigration law? Usually, the longer, the better.
How long do you expect my case to take? You want the lawyer to be aware of any immigration office backlogs relevant to your case.
How often will you provide updates about my case, and how do I contact you with questions? The lawyer should offer you immediate updates about your case and additional ones every few months if you are waiting for government action.
How much more will you charge me if complications arise? Particularly if you are paying a flat fee, you want to understand how this fee may change if you encounter a case complication.
Research Your Lawyer
You can also use Google or another online search engine to research the lawyer you are considering hiring. Online reviews may help you determine if your lawyer is credible. However, you should always be cautious about fully trusting online reviews.
Things To Consider When Choosing an Immigration Attorney
After gathering information about your potential lawyer, you should consider the following when deciding whether to hire them:
Do you trust and respect the lawyer?
How well do you get along with the lawyer? It is important that you feel comfortable communicating and working with this individual.
How well do they answer your questions? You want a lawyer who will clarify any points of confusion you may have.
What type of cases does your lawyer usually handle? Ideally, you want a professional who focuses much of their practice on your type of case. For example, some immigration attorneys specialize in processing H-1B visas for certain jobs. If your marriage green card was denied, you would likely not want to hire this person to represent you.
Are the law office’s fees and costs clear and reasonable? Avoid hiring lawyers or firms that aren’t transparent about cost.
What Are Potential Red Flags When It Comes To Choosing an Immigration Attorney?
There are several warning signs of lawyers you should avoid:
Avoid lawyers who approach you at a USCIS office or other immigration office. These lawyers often provide low-quality services. The bar association considers these practices to be unethical. Furthermore, good immigration attorneys likely are too busy handling cases to spend time searching for clients this way.
Avoid individuals who aren’t lawyers but claim to be experts. Someone who claims to be a “visa consultant,” “notario,” or “petition preparer” is not the same as a licensed attorney. In many cases, they merely type up the forms for you but lack real knowledge of your legal situation. They may not even fill out the forms correctly or may even take your money without providing you with any services.
Avoid lawyers who provide unethical or illegal advice. For example, steer clear of lawyers who suggest lying on an immigration form or to a USCIS officer or bribing an immigration authority. If caught, USCIS could permanently bar you from U.S. immigration benefits.
Be careful of lawyers who make unrealistic promises. Ultimately, a U.S. immigration authority will decide your case. Be careful of lawyers claiming a 100% success rate or guaranteeing a successful outcome.
What Happens After I Choose My Lawyer?
After you select a particular immigration lawyer you want to work with, you will likely schedule another meeting to sign an agreement. The agreement should specify what services your lawyer will provide. Carefully check what is and isn’t included. For example, if USCIS denies your case and you need to appeal your denial, this likely won’t be included in your initial fee. Also, make sure you understand how the litigation or application costs are handled. Usually, the client will have to pay these costs, such as the form fees. Note whether you will need to pay in advance or as the costs arise.
You will need to sign the documents and provide your lawyer with more information about your case. For example, you may need to give copies of your immigration forms. You will also likely need to pay a partial fee if you’re being charged a flat fee case or a retainer if you’re being charged hourly.
Afterward, be responsive to your attorney’s requests for information or payment.