Should I Use a Notario for My Immigration Case?
If you're planning to immigrate to the United States or change your immigration status, it's important to know who to turn to for immigration legal help. There are many "immigration consultants" who will make false promises about what they can do for you. These consultants are often known as "notarios," and they typically lack the legal qualifications to advise you about immigration law and other legal matters. Read on to learn more about what notarios do and how to avoid a scam.
What Is a Notario?
The term notario (or notario publico) is literally translated from Spanish to mean "notary public." A notary public in the United States is someone who is authorized to witness the signing of documents. However, in many other countries a notario publico is someone who has a license to practice law and can lawfully represent clients in legal matters.
Notario immigration fraud occurs when an individual becomes a licensed notary public in the United States and then falsely advertises to immigrant populations that he or she is capable of practicing immigration law in the United States. The American Bar Association has noted that notario publico scams are particularly effective because immigrants often mistakenly believe that the notario is qualified to provide them with legal services.
Be aware that notarios are sometimes also referred to as visa consultants or immigration consultants.
Why Is Hiring a Notario Often a Bad Idea?
Even well meaning notarios can seriously harm your immigration case. If the notario doesn't have sufficient knowledge about immigration law, he or she may file documents incorrectly and permanently harm your case. Some notarios may take your money without ever even intending to file your paperwork. If you receive incompetent immigration help, your application may be delayed, you may incur unnecessary fees, and you could even face removal proceedings.
If you've been the victim of immigration fraud, visit the American Bar Association's resources for victims of notario fraud for information about where to get help.
Who Can Legally Help Me with My Immigration Case?
While immigrants aren't required to be represented, immigration law can be very complicated so it's a good idea to obtain competent legal advice before submitting any paperwork to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But who should you consult with? There are two main categories of professionals that can legally help with your immigration case:
- Attorneys who are licensed to practice law in your state, and
- Accredited representatives of organizations recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)
If you've hired an attorney, check with the state bar association to make sure that your attorney is eligible to practice law in your state. Additionally, if you're working with an accredited non-attorney representative, check that they are associated with a recognized organization by visiting the Board of Immigration Appeals' website, and then ask to see your representative's BIA accrediting decision.
How to Avoid Immigration Scams
Once you have an attorney or accredited representative helping with your immigration case, follow the tips below from USCIS to avoid immigration scams:
- Be wary of anyone who "guarantees" that they can get you a specific benefit (e.g. a visa or green card)
- Note that USCIS doesn't charge a fee to download forms
- Before signing any document make sure that you understand what you're signing and that all information provided is accurate
- Never sign blank forms
- Double check that the filing fee you're requested to pay correctly corresponds to USCIS's posted list of fees
- Always request a receipt for any payment made to your attorney or representative
- Keep copies of all forms and documents submitted to USCIS for your own records
- Keep all receipts and correspondence from USCIS
- Immigration Law Basics
- Resources for Victims of Notario Fraud
- Lucha Contra el Fraude Notarial
- The Fight Notario Fraud Project
If you have questions about your immigration status, you should consult with an experienced immigration lawyer.