United States immigration law is extremely complicated, and even though you are not mandatorily required to be represented by an attorney in these types of cases, hiring one exponentially increases your chances of getting a favorable outcome. With the Immigration Courts having a backlog of more than 1.2 million cases active pending cases, the importance of retaining the services of an experienced immigration attorney nearby to help you solve immigration matters cannot be overstated. Individuals with immigration issues that are represented by attorneys are 11 times more likely to seek relief than unrepresented individuals, and they are nearly five times more likely to obtain this relief. Similarly, the deportation rate in unaccompanied minors' immigration matters is about 80% in cases where the minor is not represented by an attorney compared to 12% if an immigration attorney is involved.
Being properly represented by an experienced immigration attorney offers you the following advantages:
- It fastens your immigration process
- It helps you obtain legal status
- It gives you access to necessary legal advice
- It ensures that your paperwork is completed without errors
- It helps you understand all your available immigration options
Before you hire an immigration attorney near you, you need to ask a set of questions to ensure that this attorney is adequately qualified to help you with your immigration matter. These questions are:
Where Are You Licensed to Practice Immigration Law in the State You Are?
Make sure that the immigration attorney nearby that you intend to hire is eligible to appear in court on your behalf. Immigration matters are heard in several Immigration Courts located across the United States. Note that these Immigration Courts are civil courts. In situations where an immigrant is facing criminal charges for immigration-related offenses like illegal entry or reentry, these types of cases are typically tried in United States Federal District Courts, and the immigrant may require the services of a criminal defense attorney.
Only immigration attorneys that are in good standing of the bar association of at least one state in the United States including the District of Columbia are allowed to practice before an Immigration Court. To attain this status, the immigration attorney must have successfully passed the Law School Admission Test, completed three years of law school, passed a state-administered bar examination, and been sworn into the practice of law in that state. These attorneys must also not have any disciplinary actions against them that disqualify them from appearing in court.
You can confirm your immigration attorney's licensing and disciplinary status by contacting the bar association of the state where this attorney was sworn into the practice of law. You can also make sure that your attorney is currently not barred from appearing in Immigration Court by accessing a list of currently disciplined practitioners provided and maintained by the United States Department of Justice.
What Kind of Immigration Work Do You Handle?
Due to the complexity of immigration law, it is important to hire a proficient immigration lawyer near you. Immigration in the United States can be divided into three types, family-based, employment-based, and humanitarian:
- Family-based immigration: this type of immigration generally involves citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States that wish to have their family members migrate to the country. These individuals are typically required to petition for the relative that they wish to migrate into the country and prove the nature of their relationship with this relative.
- Employment-based immigration: this type of immigration involves immigrants that wish to obtain temporary or permanent work placements in the United States.
- Humanitarian immigration: this involves individuals that wish to migrate to the United States for humanitarian reasons. Under this type of immigration, immigrants can either apply for refugee status from another country or petition for asylum if they are already in the United States. Note that a petition for asylum must be made not more than 12 months after arriving in the country.
Immigration law can also be broadly grouped into two, forms-based practice and litigation practice. Forms-based immigration practice involves the preparation and submission of visa applications, petitions, and other related immigration matters, while litigation practice involves immigration-related court actions and proceedings like deportation proceedings and appeals.
You should always verify that your immigration attorney specializes in solving the type of immigration issue that you have. Experienced immigration attorneys are generally able to handle any type of immigration matter, but you should always confirm this before hiring one.
How Long Have You Been in Practice?
Immigration attorneys typically gain their knowledge through hands-on practice and so it is always a good idea to hire one near you that has years of experience. Find out when your immigration attorney was sworn into the practice of law, and how years since then this attorney has spent practicing immigration law. Many immigration attorneys display their years of experience visibly on their law firm websites but it is a good idea to directly ask your attorney these questions. You can also request a breakdown of your attorney's caseload. This should give you an idea of the types of immigration matters that your attorney has handled and the volume of these matters that are similar to yours.
Do You Charge Fixed or Hourly Fees?
Immigration attorneys typically charge clients flat fees to perform certain specific services. This fee can be as low as $300 or as high as $10,000, and it usually depends on the following factors:
- The type of immigration matter
- The attorney's level of experience
- The attorney's location
Some common immigration attorney average flat fee rates include:
- Family-based green card petitions - $800 - $3,500
- Employment-based petitions - $1,500 - $6,000
- Employment authorization or work permit applications - $300 - $600
- Asylum applications - $1,000 - $6,000
- Citizenship/naturalization applications - $500 - $1,500
- Deportation proceedings - $2,000 - $10,000
Note that although many immigration attorneys charge flat fees for their services, some of these attorneys may also charge an hourly rate. This usually costs an average of $100 - $350 per hour. Hourly fees provide you with the option of saving money especially if your immigration matter is a relatively one like reviewing already completed immigration applications. On the other hand, flat fees have the advantage of providing you with a clear idea of what it is going to cost you to hire an immigration attorney. Always confirm from your immigration attorney the type of fee structure that you will be billed with. Also, you may be required to pay an upfront fee known as a retainer regardless of the fee structure that your immigration attorney utilizes.
Do You Charge for an Initial Consultation?
Whether or not initial consultations are free depends on your immigration attorney. Some immigration attorneys offer free consultations regardless of whether or not you retain their services after this consultation, while others charge for initial consultations only if you do not retain their services. Also, some immigration attorneys may charge you for an initial consultation even if you end up retaining their services. These consultation fees typically cost an average of $100 - $300.
Make sure that you confirm whether you will be charged for an initial consultation. You can do this when you schedule your first appointment with the immigration attorney. You should also use this consultation to properly explain your immigration issue as well as to discuss issues like the attorney's fee structure and preferred method of payment. Like professionals near you, Immigration attorneys usually accept payments made via checks, cash, or digitally through debit and credit cards or mobile wallets.
How Do You Keep Clients Informed about Their Case?
Immigration attorneys are ethically obligated to promptly inform their clients of any changes to their ongoing immigration matters. Other obligations include keeping their clients properly informed of the status of their immigration matters at all times and responding to any reasonable requests for information that these clients make.
After your initial consultation with an immigration attorney near you, if you decide to retain this attorney's services then you should devise a communications routine. Discuss how often you will be given updates concerning your immigration matter, and how these updates will be delivered to you. This can be via texts, emails, in-person meetings, phone calls, or video calls done either daily, weekly, or monthly, excluding any emergency updates that require your immediate attention. It is also a good idea to find out if you will have direct access to your immigration attorney via the attorney's personal phone numbers or emails or if all communications will have to go through office numbers, emails, paralegals, or secretaries.
Who Will Actually Do the Work?
When you hire an immigration attorney near you, some aspects of the work involved in handling your immigration matter are usually delegated to paralegals. Paralegals are non-licensed individuals that are educationally qualified to perform certain legal work. In immigration law firms, these paralegals are usually referred to as immigration paralegals and their duties typically include the following:
- Carrying out research
- Summarizing cases
- Preparing paperwork
- Maintaining files
- Obtaining necessary documents like visas
- Interviewing clients
- Updating clients on the progress of their immigration matters
- Special services like helping with translations for non-English speaking clients
You should always find out the level of involvement your immigration attorney will have with handling your immigration matter and how much of the work will be delegated to immigration paralegals. Because paralegals are not licensed to practice law, all their activities have to be supervised by a licensed immigration attorney, and so you get confirmation from your attorney that any paralegals involved in your immigration matter are being properly overseen. It is also a good idea to find out if the involvement of these paralegals will have any effect on your total legal costs. Note that paralegals are forbidden for certain law-related activities. These include setting fees for their services, giving legal advice to a client, or representing a client in court.
Can You Provide References from Former Clients?
Requesting references from an immigration attorney near you is a good way to determine the attorney's level of competence. When asked for references, many immigration attorneys will direct you to a testimonials page on their website that contains reviews from past clients. In addition to directly asking your attorney to provide you with this information, you can independently get reviews on your immigration attorney by searching for the attorney's name online and perusing the results that come up. Alternatively, you can utilize the services of third-party review websites like Better Business Bureau to do this.
It is also a good idea to make sure that there are no past disciplinary actions filed against your immigration attorney. You can do this by contacting the state bar association that swore this attorney into the practice of law or through the United State Department of Justice's list of previously disciplined practitioners.
What Is Your Success Rate?
You should always find out the success rate of the immigration attorney that you intend to employ. Positive outcomes in immigration matters usually mean getting approvals for visas, work permits, and other immigration applications and petitions. Immigration attorneys that have a high rate of achieving positive outcomes in the immigration matters that they handle do not hesitate to provide this information and many of them even display their success rates on their websites. Even though it can be quite difficult to verify the actual percentage of successful cases that these attorneys claim to have, you can research immigration attorneys online to get an idea of their overall performance. You can also contact an immigration attorney's past clients near you to get firsthand information on the attorney's professional skills, both in and out of court. It is also a good idea to be wary of any immigration attorney that claims to have a 100% success rate or tries to make unrealistic promises like guaranteeing you of an assured positive outcome.
When Should I Hire an Immigration Attorney?
Although it is not mandatory to retain the services of an immigration attorney near you for all immigration matters, doing so spares you the frustration of having to navigate the complexities of immigration law by yourself. This in turn saves you time and money. You should consult with and hire an immigration attorney if you find yourself in any of the following situations:
- You have received a deportation notification
- You have been deported from the United States and you wish to return
- You are uncertain about your eligibility for a green card, citizenship, or other immigration benefits
- You have questions about your visa application or the visa application process
- You want to request refugee status or asylum
- You are having difficulty obtaining a green card or other immigration benefits
- Your immigration petition has been delayed
- Your previous immigration application was denied or refused
- You want to apply for an investment-based visa
- You want to move to the United States for work reasons and your United States-based employer is unable to help you with the immigration process
- You need emergency help with an immigration matter
What Are the Typical Qualifications Held by an Immigration Attorney?
Individuals that wish to become immigration attorneys can only do so after spending a combined total of seven years obtaining a bachelor's degree and a Juris Doctor law degree. No specific major is required for the bachelor's degree, but immigration attorneys are typically advised to consider taking courses in political science, economics, history, philosophy, social sciences, business, and language studies. After obtaining a law degree, immigration attorneys are required to pass a state-administered bar examination and be sworn in by the supreme court of that state. Because immigration law is federal law, immigration attorneys can practice anywhere in the United States as long as they have been sworn in by the bar association of any state in the country. Some states also offer legal specialization and board-certification opportunities to interested immigration attorneys. These states include California, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas.