Immigration

To get a visa or green card you need the right lawyer. Here are ways to keep the cost down

With the new complexities and restrictions of the U.S. immigration system, it has become more challenging for immigrants to move through the legal immigration process.

Across all sections of immigration laws and regulations, the U.S. government is requiring increasing evidence that immigration benefits applicants meet strict eligibility requirements, William A. Stock, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), told el Nuevo Herald.

So it’s more important than ever to get expert advice from a lawyer who has experience, has seen similar cases and knows what is going to be convincing to the government agency, the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), making the decision.

Stock, one of the country’s leading immigration lawyers based in Philadelphia, listed the questions an immigrant should ask an immigration attorney before deciding whether to hire him or her.

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“First and foremost, an individual has to feel comfortable with the lawyer and with the relationship you are going to have with the lawyer, because you are going to trust and rely on this person,” said Stock.

“It’s very important for people to understand they are hiring the lawyer, the lawyer works for them, they are the boss, and if they are not happy with the service, they should tell the lawyer, and they are entitled to work with the lawyer,” he added.

Read more: These policy changes will impact legal immigrants in the U.S. in 2019

Stock said these are some of the best questions clients should ask their potential lawyers:

What are you trying to accomplish?

It’s important to start the attorney-client relationship with a clear understanding of the goal and the scope of what you are trying to do together. Does the applicant qualify for the immigration benefit desired, such as a work permit, permanent residence or citizenship, and what are the chances of obtaining it?

Attorneys sometimes will suggest that a client is eligible for a particular benefit, but that only means that the person meets the basic requirements, and that may not be enough — you might have to exceed the basic requirements. So a very fair question is, “Even if I meet the requirements, can I actually get it?”

Clients also should understand the strategy, ask what could go wrong and what could happen if that’s the case.

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What experience does the lawyer have?

It’s important to hire an experienced professional licensed to practice immigration law in the United States, and not a public notary or an unauthorized adviser. If the attorney doesn’t have enough experience, does he or she have the passion and resources to help the client during the process?

Lawyers can often run into new situations, but can do research — they have colleagues that they can call, or join organizations like AILA.

Clients should feel comfortable that their lawyer is aware of all the newest laws and regulations, that they have handled similar cases in the past and that they are interested in their case and in them as a client.

Remember: the attorney serves your interest, not the lawyer’s interest.

Read more: These new rules make it much more difficult to become a legal immigrant in the U.S.

How much and how will the attorney charge?

Immigration lawyers charge different fees based on services provided, and often depending on the cases’ complexity.

Ask if the attorney charges an hourly rate and, if so, how many hours a case like yours usually takes. Make sure the attorney is working the most efficiently way possible. For example, do they have paralegal assistants, so they won’t charge you to make photocopies.

But don’t be surprised if fees are higher than those paid by someone with a similar case a year ago, because immigration cases are harder and they require more effort.

If you’re searching for an immigration lawyer you can check this database provided by AILA.

Read more: Immigrants facing deportation don’t always have to leave the U.S. Here’s what they can do

Seven best tips for saving on immigration legal fees

The fees charged by immigration lawyers, either by the hour or flat amounts per case, have risen significantly along with the time and effort required.

Processing delays that have reached crisis levels under the Trump administration, and a closer scrutiny of applications required by new regulations, have made the lawyers’ work much more complex and demanding. And this translates into increased costs for their clients.

But immigrants can be proactive and take steps to save on legal costs.

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Miami immigration attorney Elina Magaly Santana, a member of AILA’s South Florida chapter, helped el Nuevo Herald outline a list of tips for saving money on lawyers for immigration cases:

Hire an honest attorney

Find the right lawyer through proper research. Choose a professional with experience in immigration, someone who is interested in your particular case.

Request a flat fee agreement

Ask for a flat fee. Most attorneys charge by the hour, but there are also fixed-fee agreements that set specific amounts for a particular immigration process. In the long run, this reduces unexpected bills.

Read more: Being a victim of immigration fraud can lead to deportation. Watch out for these scams

Organize your documents

Organize your papers as much as possible before going to the lawyer’s office, to make more efficient use of the time.

Request a payment schedule

Ask your lawyer to agree to a payment plan. Negotiate a schedule that is realistic.

Limit your communications with the attorney

Limit your emails and phone calls to the lawyer. It’s better to make a list of all your questions as they come up, then schedule a chat to avoid being billed for multiple exchanges.

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Gather all required documents

Gather all official papers required, such as civil records from your country of nationality, or copies of final divorce decrees or annulments. The lawyer otherwise will charge more for tracking down those documents.

Handle your own translations

USCIS requires that all documents be in English, including foreign birth certificates and affidavits of support. Instead of using translation companies, use independent translators who charge less or ask friends or relatives who are fluent in English to help you, if the documents are not too complex.

Daniel Shoer Roth is a journalist covering immigration law who does not offer legal advice or individual assistance to applicants. Follow him on Twitter @DanielShoerRoth. The contents of this news-you-can-use story do not constitute legal advice.

Read more about legal and immigration issues in Spanish at AccesoMiami.com

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Daniel Shoer Roth es un galardonado autor, biógrafo y periodista con 20 años en la plantilla de el Nuevo Herald, donde se ha desempeñado como reportero, columnista de noticias y actual productor de crecimiento digital. También es coordinador de AccesoMiami.com, una guía sobre todo lo que necesitas saber sobre Miami, asuntos legales e inmigración.
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