Immigration lawyers are those who specialize in interpreting United States immigration law, which can change with each presidency, and who guide their immigrant clients through the complicated and ever evolving immigration process. A large portion of an immigration lawyer’s time is spent helping those who are experiencing difficulties related to adhering to immigration requirements. They also represent their clients during deportation hearings.
Many immigrants choose to invest in an immigration lawyer because even simple, honest mistakes on a visa or green card application can result in delays known to last several years. Additionally, mistakes may lead to the applicant being denied or deported. As such, immigration lawyers generally fill the role of an advisor or counselor to their clients who must interact with United States immigration authorities.
Immigration lawyers do not usually spend much time handling civil disputes in court when compared to other types of lawyers. Rather, they tend to act as mediators between their clients and the authorities. An example of such an authority would be the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or, the USCIS. However, as previously mentioned, immigration lawyers do make appearances before an immigration judge if their client must face an immigration hearing. The majority of immigration lawyers also address issues that involve their clients and criminal laws.
To simplify, an immigration lawyer will likely provide information and guidance regarding:
- Visa applications;
- Green cards;
- Deportation; and
- Noncitizen employment.
What Are Some Situations Where Hiring an Immigration Lawyer Is Necessary?
Hiring an immigration lawyer is not always necessary; the process can be completed by someone representing themselves. However, working with an attorney who is fully aware of all current immigration laws can greatly reduce the risk of mistakes or errors. Most people will hire an immigration lawyer when they would like assistance with submitting an application for an immigration document, such as a visa or green card.
There are some situations in which hiring an immigration lawyer is actually necessary. Some of the most common examples of these situations include, but may not be limited to:
- Crime Conviction: If the immigration applicant has been convicted of committing a crime, they will need to work with an immigration attorney. Nearly every USCIS form requires that the applicant divulge whether they have been convicted of a crime. The applicant must disclose their entire criminal record, including charges that were dropped or later expunged. An immigration lawyer will be aware of how immigration and criminal laws overlap each other, thereby eliminating the need for a separate criminal defense lawyer;
- Application Denial: An immigration lawyer will be needed if the applicant’s prior immigration applications have been denied. Their attorney will determine why the application was denied, and determine whether it is possible to appeal the application or reapply at a later date.
- Previous Deportation: An applicant will need to hire an attorney if they have previously been deported, or excluded from entry into the United States. This is because deportation or exclusion can sometimes mean that the applicant is permanently banned from future applications. An immigration lawyer would be able to determine whether that is the case, and advise the applicant regarding the effects of deportation and exclusion;
- Medical Condition: Some medical conditions, generally communicable diseases, can prevent a person from being granted entry into the United States. An immigration lawyer will be able to help applicants determine whether their medical condition will render them ineligible, and what their options are;
- Unreasonable Wait Time: When an applicant has been waiting for an unreasonably long time during the application process, they should hire an immigration attorney. Because immigration attorneys are familiar with the application process, they are also familiar with deadlines and expected wait times. The attorney may be able to help the applicant in terms of obtaining expedited or rush processing;
- Employer Non-cooperation: If the applicant is applying for an employment-based visa, but their prospective employer is not assisting with related issues, the applicant should hire an attorney. An immigration lawyer can help ensure that future employers fulfill their obligations to the applicant as promised;
- Terminated Marriage: An attorney will be necessary if the applicant was married to a United States citizen, but the marriage was terminated before the applicant was able to remove certain conditions from their permanent resident status. Generally speaking, visa applications that are based on a marriage are jointly filed. As such, if the marriage was terminated because of death or divorce, it may be especially difficult to prove that it was not a fraudulent marriage;
- Recently Divorced: A similar situation would be if the applicant would like to adjust their permanent resident status, but is recently divorced and is married to a different United States citizen. The first marriage may be suspected of being a scam; as such, an immigration lawyer could help prove that the first marriage was actually legitimate; and/or
- A Child Under the Age of 21: Eligibility for permanent resident status differs based on the immigrant’s age, and requirements are different for children under the age of 21. If the applicant is coming with their family, and their child might reach the age of 21 before being granted permanent resident status, an immigration attorney can provide advice regarding the best method for filing for children of applicants.
What Are Some Things Immigration Lawyers Don’t Do?
If the applicant is overseas, an immigration lawyer cannot attend consular interviews with them. However, they may prepare necessary paperwork, as well as communicate afterward with involved consulates. It is important to note that lawyers cannot speed up the immigration process, and cannot guarantee the results of the immigration process. An attorney can only help guide you throughout the immigration process, not control the results.
How Has the Immigration Process Changed Due to COVID-19?
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USCIS suspended all in-person services for the first three months of the pandemic. Because of this, interviews for all immigration and asylum applications were postponed. Additionally, all biometrics appointments were canceled. What this means is that new fingerprints cannot be collected.
The USCIS temporarily suspended naturalization ceremonies, and would not compromise on offering virtual oath ceremonies. The effect of this resistance was that the ability of tens of thousands of applicants to become United States citizens was delayed, meaning that they could not enjoy the benefits and rights entitled to them as citizens. There have been no broad policy changes which would enable noncitizens to focus on their health and the pandemic, as opposed to being concerned about their immigration status.
As of September 2020, it would appear that the immigration process has become even more complex due to COVID-19.
How Can an Immigration Lawyer Help with COVID-19 Issues in the Immigration Process?
An immigration lawyer is going to be most up to date regarding the recent changes in the immigration process as a result of COVID-19. As such, an experienced immigration attorney will make sure that you correctly follow the latest laws and processes on immigration. An immigration attorney will also be able to help you navigate around some of the current processes that have become delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should I Contact an Immigration Lawyer?
If you are at all uncertain about any aspect of the immigration process, you should consult with an experienced local immigration lawyer. Even small and innocent mistakes could lead to deportation or having your application denied. An experienced immigration attorney can help you determine which visa to apply for, remedy any obstacles that may arise, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.