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Understanding Who Can Help You Complete Immigration Forms

With approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and millions more with temporary status, the need for immigration assistance is considerable. But not every immigrant needs the same type of assistance. There are 3 different groups of individuals who can help: lawyers, accredited representatives and Immigration Forms Specialists.

The following chart outlines what each group can and cannot do when providing immigration assistance: 

Immigration Service Attorney Fully-Accredited Representative Partially-Accredited Representative Immigration Forms Specialist
Decide What Forms to Fill Out YES YES YES NO
Fill Out Immigration Forms YES YES YES YES
Collect Supporting Documents YES YES YES YES
Send Submission Packages to the USCIS YES YES YES YES
Provide Legal Strategy and Opinions YES YES YES NO
Represent in DHS Proceedings YES YES YES NO
Represent in EOIR Proceedings YES YES NO NO
Represent in Federal Judicial Proceedings YES NO NO NO
Promise Specific Results NO NO NO NO

Read on for a detailed explanation of what each type can and cannot do.

Immigration Services Attorneys Can Provide

An attorney is a person licensed to practice law by the bar of the highest court of any U.S. state, possession, territory, or commonwealth including the District of Columbia. Licensed attorneys can provide clients with all legal services necessary to complete and submit immigration documents and can attend, advocate, and litigate in all legal proceedings in the immigration process.

What Attorneys Can Do:

  • Provide all immigration legal services and representation to the public.
  • Represent individuals before U.S. immigration agencies and courts including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which includes the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. Department of Justice which includes the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR - immigration court)  and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), and all U.S. federal judicial courts, among others.
  • Provide legal advice and strategy to individuals by interpreting and applying immigration law to present facts to devise a legal strategy and proposed solution. 
  • Complete and sign off on immigration forms and collect supporting documents.
  • Submit completed immigration forms, submission packages, legal briefs, memoranda, correspondences, responsive documents, motions, appeals, and federal lawsuits to the U.S. government on behalf of individuals.
  • Litigate with the U.S. government in all administrative and judicial proceedings.

What Attorneys Can’t Do:

  • Persuade or influence an individual to lie to the U.S. government or engage in any illegal, deceptive, or unethical business practices.
  • Violate any state(s) laws/bar rules of professional responsibility, business & professions, or ethical codes of conduct in any jurisdiction where the attorney is licensed and practicing.

Immigration Services Accredited Representatives Can Provide

An Accredited Representative is a non-attorney legal representative accredited by the BIA to represent immigrants and provide immigration-related legal services to low-income or indigent individuals on behalf of a BIA-accredited recognized organization (RO) such as a nonprofit, religious, charitable, social service, or similar organization.

There are two kinds of BIA accreditation: “partial” or “full.”

What Fully-Accredited Representatives Can Do:

  • Represent qualifying individuals for all matters before the DHS.
  • Represent qualifying individuals for all matters before the EOIR.

What Partially-Accredited Representatives Can Do:

  • Represent qualifying individuals for all matters before the DHS.

What Fully-Accredited Representatives Can’t Do:

  • Provide legal services outside of the scope of, or without, BIA accreditation.
  • Provide legal services separate and apart from a designated RO.
  • Provide legal services to individuals who are not low-income or indigent.
  • Charge more than a nominal fee for services rendered.
  • Persuade or influence an individual to lie to the U.S. government or engage in any illegal, deceptive, or unethical business practices.
  • Represent any individual before any U.S. federal judicial court.

What Partially-Accredited Representatives Can’t Do:

  • Provide legal services outside of the scope of, or without, BIA accreditation.
  • Provide legal services separate and apart from a designated RO.
  • Provide legal services to individuals who are not low-income or indigent.
  • Charge more than a nominal fee for services rendered.
  • Persuade or influence an individual to lie to the U.S. government or engage in any illegal, deceptive, or unethical business practices.
  • Represent any individual before the EOIR.
  • Represent any individual before any U.S. federal judicial court. 

Immigration Services That Immigration Forms Specialists Can Provide

An immigration forms specialist is a non-attorney person authorized to provide non-legal immigration services within the scope of his or her state’s laws which vary widely from state-to-state. 

In California, where I practice law, the general parameters for an immigration forms specialist are as follows: 

What Immigration Forms Specialists Can Do:

  • Gather all facts objectively, with due diligence, and without personal opinion while noting any and all red flags prior to providing any assistance whatsoever.
  • Ensure the individual is fully informed and clearly understands everything signed and all services to be provided.
  • Explain, clarify, translate, and interpret immigration instructions, forms, or specific form questions to the individual.
  • Translate, clarify, and transcribe the individual’s answers on immigration forms and paperwork with the highest level of accuracy.
  • Help obtain supporting documents.
  • Provide English language translations for foreign language documents with the highest level of accuracy.
  • Submit completed immigration forms and submission packages to the U.S. government with the individual’s consent.
  • Provide a written contract and dated receipts for all payments received.
  • Maintain a confidential file copy including the contract, receipts, and all documents submitted to the U.S. government - originals should be returned to the individual.
  • Maintain confidentiality regarding all information and documentation received.
  • Immediately refer individuals to an attorney or AR when any red flag is noted.

What Immigration Forms Specialists Can’t Do:

  • Hold themselves out as an attorney or accredited representative, if not qualified.
  • Offer legal services or engage in the unauthorized practice of law.
  • Engage in oral contracts.
  • Provide legal advice by interpreting or applying immigration law to present facts.
  • Recommend what immigration forms to use or provide case strategy.
  • Directly correspond with the government or represent an individual in any immigration interview or proceeding.
  • Guarantee a result or make any promise of special influence with the government.
  • Threaten arrest, fines, deportation or reveal personal information.
  • Overcharge, take money without delivering services, or withhold file copies or original documents for money or any other reason.
  • Persuade or influence an individual to lie to the U.S. government or engage in any illegal, deceptive, or unethical business practices.
  • Receive referral fees or kickbacks from attorneys or ARs.

In California, contracts between immigration forms specialists and clients must adhere to the following requirements: (1) be written in English and the client’s native language; (2) list non-legal services to be performed and total cost; (3) state that the client has the right to cancel a contract and receive a refund at any time; (4) state that the client has the right to a full refund within 72 hours of signing a contract; and (5) state that all contract cancellations must be in writing.

Again, state laws vary and change, so always check your state’s laws regarding immigration services compliance.

Some states that allow individuals to provide non-legal immigration services maintain strict regulatory standards including fees, registration, licensing, background checks, bonds, insurance, and limitations on the scope of services.

This article is meant to be a summary comparison guide and should not be construed as legal advice or primary legal authority.

About the Author: Christopher S. Kim, Esq. is a licensed California immigration attorney and immigrant law content advisor for the National Notary Association.