The Wall Street Journal dubbed it a "new port for the huddled masses," and indeed, the Internet has become a popular resource, at times even a life line, for those seeking to immigrate or obtain temporary visas. Or simply for people who need to understand the legalities of their situation or pending case. The dynamics are changing in some interesting ways.
Now that so much immigration information is available on line, some people with very simple cases have opted to go it on their own. While this is certainly more possible than it used to be, the amount of information available is copious, and the time commitment is great, as are the demands for attention to detail and a grasp of how the immigration process works (and in some cases doesn't work). "You wouldn't have a dentist perform heart surgery," says Carl Shusterman, Esq. (Law Offices of Carl Shusterman), providing an analogy of why it can be so important to hire a proper professional for most immigration matters.
A really good immigration attorney can be worth his or her weight in gold.
In addition to the do-it-yourselfers, there are a growing number of people who do turn to the Web to seek a good immigration attorney. With the expansion of the Internet there are many more long distance client/attorney opportunities available now.
But where there are more choices, there is also more room for mistakes and incompetence. We almost always recommend an attorney, to ensure that no stone in your case will go unturned. However, the catch is that you must stay well informed in order to be sure you aren't breaking any rules, and you must also make sure that the attorney is a damn good one. Put your paperwork in the hands of someone who knows not what they do, and he or she can make matters even worse than you would have on your own.
Remember that even the best attorney can't be there every minute to make sure you aren't doing something in your daily life that could jeopardize your case. And if you don't know many of the quirky immigration rules, you won't know you are making the mistake, and won't think to ask about it. "Usually, a good attorney should know the right questions to ask," Greg Siskind of Siskind, Susser, Haas & Devine stresses. But knowledge is power, and if you want to have any control of your immigration destiny, it's wise to know the basics.
A good immigration attorney is worth his or her weight in gold. This is underscored by the frightening stories we hear on a regular basis, about those who are not experienced.
One woman came to us to ask about when she might be getting her green card, as she missed her family, and had been unable to see them for three years due to the delay in getting her actual card. We asked why she hadn't gotten an Advance Parole. She didn't have the foggiest clue of what we were talking about. This woman had been on a valid F-1 student visa when she married her US citizen husband. She had never been out of status and there were no complications in her case. When her attorney told her not to leave the country before receiving her green card, he simply failed to inform her that she could have filed for Advance Parole, which is a travel permission that can often be obtained within 30-90 days.
Another incident involved a young married couple applying for student visas. In order to obtain a student visa, a person needs to prove to the INS that they do not intend to immigrate, i.e. move here permanently. The INS wants to know that the individual has no such intention. To prove this, the aspiring student is asked to prove family ties and stability at home, in addition to having the financial means to support him or herself during the entire duration of their stay in the states.
Well, this couple mentioned to us in passing that their attorney suggested they might want to live in the US permanently at a later date, applying for a green card based on extraordinary ability. To prepare for this goal, she advised them point blank to go ahead--while still in their home country-- and gather some 60 letters of recommendation from teachers, employers and outstanding members of the community. This was before they had even signed the papers for their student visas. Did she tell them to post date the letters, I asked? (I don't condone trying to trick the system, which is what post dating would attempt to do; I was just baffled.) By later presenting the INS with these 60 letters that were dated prior to applying for their student visas, these two would virtually be providing the INS with absolute proof that they had every intention of immigrating to the USA before they even became students. The attorney had not only failed to advise them about the laws, but had even set them up to unwittingly break those laws and then get caught.
In another incident, a woman was married to an American citizen and the marriage fell apart before she received her green card. She had already established a life here and wanted to remain, but the only way for her to do so was through an H-1B working visa. While still in the US, she proceeded to find a job, hire an attorney and apply for the visa. Now, although she was not illegal, she was no longer in a status that allowed her to apply for the visa from within the US. Had her attorney explained this, she would gladly have returned home to wait. Unfortunately, he did not, and she was denied precisely on those grounds, rendering $4,000 down the drain, not to mention the upsetting immigration consequences.
In all of these cases, had the applicants been well informed, they would have been in a better position to interview for a savvy attorney and also would have been more likely to catch any errors or omissions.
There are two ways to protect yourself:
1) Stay well informed and up-to-date by keeping up with the best available information on the Web.
2) When seeking an attorney, make sure the one you hire is damn good.
Easier said than done you say?
Please see the links on the right side box of this page "related links" to find good immigration lawyers.