You have legal rights (even if you are not a U.S. citizen). If you have legal questions or problems related to immigration, hiring an immigration lawyer can help protect your rights by:
- Explaining current laws. Immigration law can be confusing. An immigration lawyer can explain things like how to become a citizen or how to avoid deportation.
- Explaining new policies. Immigration policies change often. Lawyers know when these policies change. So, if you’ve gotten advice from a lawyer in the past, you may wish to discuss that advice with a lawyer now to check for changes.
How to find an immigration lawyer
If you have immigration problems or questions, you should find a U.S.-licensed lawyer or accredited representative who specializes in immigration matters.
To find a list of lawyers who are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), visit the AILA website.
To find a list of accredited representatives, visit the Department of Justice’s website.
There are also nonprofit organizations that provide free or low-cost immigration lawyers. You can find nonprofits that offer free legal help in your area on this page under "Legal Help and Lawyers."
Be sure to research the lawyers and representatives to make sure they are a good match for your case.
Questions to ask when choosing a lawyer
If you need an immigration lawyer, you should choose one who matches your needs. To evaluate a possible new lawyer, you should ask:
- Are you an attorney or an accredited representative? Your lawyer should have a license. Non-lawyers are also allowed to help with your legal case if they work for a nonprofit and have been granted accreditation by the Department of Justice. Ask to see the lawyer’s license or non-lawyer’s accreditation certificate. If they do not have a license or accreditation, do not hire them. It is illegal for a “public notary” or unlicensed foreign lawyer to provide legal advice.
- Do you specialize in immigration? There are many types of lawyers. Be sure that your new lawyer specializes in immigration law.
- Do you specialize in my case type? There are many types of immigration legal issues. Be sure that your new lawyer has experience with your specific situation.
- Do you help clients who are in immigration detention? If you are detained, ask the lawyer if they work with detained clients. Ask which detention centers they cover. Ask if the lawyer visits detained clients in person, or if the lawyer meets with clients on the phone only. Meeting in person may be easier for you and let you avoid phone charges. Ask if one of your friends or family members must be a liaison (a person who shares information between the lawyer and the detention center).
The cost of an immigration lawyer
Lawyers can be expensive. When you hire an immigration lawyer, ask how much the lawyer charges. You should ask:
- How much do you charge? Ask if the lawyer charges a flat fee (one amount for the entire service) or an hourly rate.
- What does the fee cover? Ask if the fee covers the whole case, or if it covers the first part only.
- Do you accept payment plans or credit cards? Ask how you can pay the fee.
- Does this fee include the government’s application costs? Most immigration defenses require filing applications with the government. The application fee can be hundreds or thousands of dollars.
You should get a written contract (retainer) that explains exactly what the lawyer does and how much the service costs.
Discuss your goals
When you talk to your lawyer, the lawyer should ask what outcome you want.
Ask your lawyer if the possible outcomes are permanent (like getting citizenship), or if the outcomes are temporary (like getting a work permit that must be renewed later).
Translators and interpreters
If you do not speak English fluently, you may want an interpreter to tell you what your lawyer says. Also, you may want a translator to write documents in a language you understand. Ask your lawyer if they provide an interpreter and translator. Also, ask if the lawyer charges money to provide an interpreter and translator.
Protect yourself from legal scams
A good lawyer protects your rights. But, there are scammers and bad lawyers who try to take your money without helping you.
To protect yourself from scams, you should:
- Be suspicious. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do not believe a person who says there is a secret law or claims to have special influence with an agency.
- Understand your lawyer and all written documents. A good lawyer makes sure that all applications and contracts are translated or read to you in a language you understand.
- Avoid signing false information. Do not sign documents with false information. Avoid signing blank forms. If you must sign a blank form, get a copy of the completed form and read it carefully before you file it.
- Get proof of filing. When you or your lawyer submit a document, always get proof of filing (like a copy or a government filing receipt).
- Get agreements in writing. You should always get a written contract. The contract should include all details and fees. If the terms change, get a written explanation. All written documents should be translated to a language you understand.
- Avoid green card marriage scams. Do not let anyone “find” you a sponsor or spouse to get a green card. It is illegal.
Firing your lawyer
You are free to choose your lawyer. Also, you are free to end your relationship with your lawyer at any time for any reason. If your case is pending in court, a judge may have to approve removing your lawyer from the case.
If you want to fire your lawyer, you must:
- Tell your lawyer. You can tell them in person, by phone or by writing an email or letter. Sending a letter is the best way to fire your lawyer. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.
- Pay your fees. If you fire your lawyer, you may owe fees for your lawyer’s completed work and expenses. Ask the lawyer for a detailed bill that lists and explains every cost. The bill should include the time spent on each task and the amount charged.
- Get a retainer refund. A retainer is money that you pay a lawyer for future legal help. If your lawyer has an unused part of your retainer, ask the lawyer to refund the unused part. Tell the lawyer to send the money to you or to another specific person or group.
- Talk to a new lawyer. If you want to hire a new lawyer, you should talk to the new lawyer as soon as possible to avoid missing deadlines or creating a problem.
- Forward your information. If you hire a new lawyer, ask your old lawyer to send your files to the new lawyer. If you do not have a new lawyer, ask the old lawyer to return the files to you.