What is an Immigration Consultant?
Immigration consultants provide immigration assistance. This can include services such as assistance with filing applications and petition, helping to gather required documentation or translation.
There is no certification process in the United States to become an immigration consultant, which means there is no standard that U.S. consultants must adhere to. Immigration consultants may have little experience with the immigration system or be experts. They may have a high degree of education (which may or may not include some legal training) or very little eduction. However, an immigration consultant is not the same as an immigration attorney or accredited representative.
The big difference between immigration consultants and immigration attorneys/accredited representatives is that consultants are not allowed to give legal assistance. For example, they may not tell you how you should answer immigration interview questions or what application or petition to apply for. They also cannot represent you in immigration court.
"Notarios" in the U.S. falsely claim the qualifications to provide legal immigration assistance. Notario is the Spanish-language term for notary in Latin America. Notary publics in the United States do not have the same legal qualifications as notarios in Latin America. Some states have established laws prohibiting notaries from adverstising as a notario publico.
Many states have laws regulating immigration consultants and all states prohibit immigration consultants or "notarios" from providing legal advice or legal representation. The American Bar Association provides a list of relevant laws by state [PDF].
USCIS provides an overview of the services an immigration consultant, notary public or notario may or may not provide.
What an immigration consultant CANNOT do:
•represent you before USCIS (only immigration attorneys and accredited representatives may represent you)
•give you legal advice on what immigration benefit you may apply for
•give you advice on what to say in an immigration interview
•claim to be qualified in legal matters or in immigration and naturalization procedure
•charge considerable fees - consultants may only charge nominal (inexpensive) fees as regulated by state law
What an immigration consultant CAN do:
•help you by filling in the blanks on pre-printed USCIS forms with information that you provide
Note: By law, anyone helping you in this way must complete the bottom "Preparer" section of the application or petition.
The Big Question
So should you use an immigration consultant? The first question you should ask yourself is, do you really need one? If you need help filling in the forms or need a translation, then you should consider a consultant. If you're not sure if you're eligible for a particular visa (for example, perhaps you have a previous denial or criminal history that may affect your case) or need any other legal advice, an immigration consultant will not be able to help you. You will need the assistance of a qualified immigration attorney or accredited representative.
While there have been many cases of immigration consultants providing services they are not qualified to offer, there are also many legitimate immigration consultants who provide valuable services; you just need to be a savvy consumer when shopping for an immigration consultant. Here are some things to remember from USCIS:
•If it sounds too good to be true or if someone claims to have a special relationship with USCIS, steer clear. No one can guarantee results or faster processing.
•Ask about qualifications. If they claim to be qualified to provide legal assistance, ask to see copies of their BIA accreditation letter or bar certificate.
•Get a written contract in English and if applicable, in your own language as well.
•Avoid paying cash and get a receipt.
•Never sign a blank form or application. Make sure you understand what you are signing.
If you want to file a complaint against a notario or immigration consultant, the American Immigration Lawyers Association provides a state-by-state guide on how and where to file complaints