Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘visa agent’

28th January 2011

Those who have read this web log with any frequency in the past may have noticed that the administration routinely posts information regarding attorney licensure and the practice of United States Immigration law. Recently, this blogger discovered some interesting information on this subject while researching the issue on the official website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). To quote some of that information directly:

If Then
You are filing within the United States Attorneys and accredited representatives may communicate with USCIS on your behalf and receive information from USCIS regarding your application or petition.
You are filing an application or petition at an office outside the United States Attorneys and accredited representatives may communicate with USCIS on your behalf and receive information from USCIS regarding your application or petition…

It should be reiterated that only a licensed American attorney has the unfettered privilege of practicing American immigration law before the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Although charitable organizations in the USA may be accredited to represent individuals before the USCIS and/or the US Immigration Courts, such representation is conducted on a not-for-profit basis. Licensed American attorneys are generally in a good position to provide advice and counsel regarding immigration matters due to education and experience. However, so-called “immigration consultants,” “visa agents,” and “visa companies” lack both the credentials and qualification to provide advice and representation of clients before USCIS, DHS, and/or the Department of State (DOS). To quote the USCIS website further:

Attorneys must be a member in good standing of the bar of a U.S. State (or U.S. possession, territory, Commonwealth, or the District of Columbia) and not be under any court order restricting their practice of law. Attorneys will check the first block on Form G-28 and must provide information regarding their admission to practice.

Only attorneys and accredited representatives may communicate on your behalf regarding your application with USCIS.

In choosing an attorney, you should:

  • Ensure that the attorney is a member in good standing of the “bar” of a U.S. State (or possession, territory, Commonwealth or District of Columbia)
  • Ensure that the attorney is not under any court order restricting their practice of law
  • Review the current attorney licensing document for the attorney and contact the relevant State bar admission authorities to verify the information.  See the “American Bar Association – State Bar Associations” link to the right for a list of state bar associations.
  • Review the “List of Currently Disciplined Practitioners” in the link to the right. This is where the Executive Office for Immigration Review lists if an attorney has been expelled or suspended from practice before USCIS/DHS
  • Review the “List of Previously Disciplined Practitioners” available from the “List of Currently Disciplined Practitioners”  page on the EOIR website

A lawfully admitted attorney should honor your request for this information, as State Bar practice rules require disclosure of this information to clients. Before you pay attorney fees for help with your immigration case, make sure that the individual is a licensed attorney.

You should also review the lists of currently disciplined and previously disciplined practitioners on the Executive Office for Immigration Review website. These lists will help you to determine whether the attorney has been expelled or suspended from practice before USCIS/DHS.  To review these lists, please see the links in the “External Links” section of this page.

Those wishing to retain professional assistance during the United States Immigration process are well advised to take note of the citation quoted above as this information is very useful for those seeking attorney assistance. That said, the forthcoming quote deals with the issue of fake lawyers, visa agents, notarios, and immigration consultants who have been known to imitate genuine American attorneys in an effort to further their own interests while simultaneously fleecing an unsuspecting public (both immigrants and American Citizens). To quote the USCIS website one further time:

Notarios, notary publics and immigration consultants may NOT represent you before USCIS.

Those wishing to bring their loved one from another country for family reunification in the USA should take note of the above quotation. In Thailand, for example, there are some fly-by-night operators claiming both expertise in immigration law as well as qualification, without actually possessing either. For this reason, it is always prudent to ask for the licensure information of those claiming the ability to represent individuals before USCIS, DHS, and DOS.

Licensed foreign lawyers may, under some circumstances, be able to provide some limited representation, but only upon authorization from USCIS, those interested should consult the USCIS website directly as this issue is not the intended topic of this posting.

For related information please see: K1 Visa Thailand.

more Comments: 04

19th September 2010

This author has frequently discussed the myriad problems that Immigrants can face when dealing with an unlicensed American immigration “agent” or “specialist“. American law and Federal Regulations are clear regarding the issue of who is allowed to provide legal services in matters arising before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) specifically; or any of the other agencies which are overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Only licensed attorneys from the United States of America are able to provide consultations about US Immigration matters for a fee. Furthermore, only an attorney licensed by the Highest Court of least one US State, Commonwealth, or outlying territory is allowed charge fees to represent clients before DHS, including USCIS.

Unfortunately, there are some unauthorized organizations throughout the world claiming to be able to provide advice and assistance in American Immigration matters. The internet has proven to be a great tool for those wishing to research matters pertaining to United States Immigration. Meanwhile, it has also provided a platform for some operations which claim legal expertise without appropriate training or licensure. Such individuals and entities ought to be avoided at all costs since information transmitted to such individuals and entities may not be protected by the usual legal protections accorded to communications conveyed between an American attorney and their client. Furthermore, one who is not legally trained or not licensed to provide legal services in a given jurisdiction or about a particular subject cannot provide effective counsel nor lawful confidentiality to those seeking their assistance. This can be especially important to those conveying sensitive information about a case pending before an immigration tribunal, agency, US Embassy, or US Consulate abroad. Those engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in the aforementioned manner are thereby placing their own interests, as well as those of their unsuspecting “clients’”, in jeopardy.

When comparing the costs of legal service it is important to understand the pivotal role of licensure when making a decision to retain counsel. No licensed legal professional is likely to have a problem with prospective clients shopping for a reasonably priced service with a professional that they feel comfortable dealing with. In general, licensed American attorneys find that competition with other professionals makes for a healthy and prosperous business environment, but to compare the services of a licensed American immigration attorney with one who is not licensed to practice law creates a false comparison as US law is clear that those without licensure cannot provide the services which they claim they can provide in an immigration context. In short: one cannot compare a legal service with an illegal service from a price standpoint as an illegal service provider simply cannot provide such services at any price.

For further information please see: licensed lawyer. To learn more about US Immigration from Southeast Asia please see: US Immigration Law Thailand.

more Comments: 04

29th April 2010

In a recent case that was heard and adjudicated by the United States Supreme Court, the issue of Immigrants’ right to counsel was taken up and the outcome of the case resulted in a landmark opinion and a watershed moment for the rights of Immigrants in the United States of America. The case is known as Padilla v. Kentucky, the following quote comes from an email from the Law Corporation of Alice M. Yardum-Hunter:

The case involved a 40-year permanent resident, Jose Padilla, whose criminal defense lawyer advised him not to worry about the immigration consequences of pleading guilty to a crime. That advice was not only wrong but the guilty plea subjected Mr. Padilla to mandatory deportation from the United States. The Kentucky Supreme Court held that Mr. Padilla had no right to withdraw his plea when he learned of the deportation consequence. The Supreme Court reversed that decision and rejected the federal government’s position – also adopted by several other courts – that a noncitizen is protected only from “affirmative misadvice” and not from a lawyer’s failure to provide any advice about the immigration consequences of a plea. The Court held that Mr. Padilla’s counsel was constitutionally deficient and affirmed that immigrants should not be held accountable when they rely on incorrect advice from their lawyers or where counsel fails to provide any immigration advice at all.

The implications of this case are important for attorneys practicing in the United States as they will now be required to provide advice about the legal consequences of certain activities from an Immigration perspective.

This is also important for those American Immigration Lawyers practicing outside of the United States. For example, if an individual with lawful permanent residence in the United States is abroad and learns of a pending criminal warrant or fugitive warrant, then that individual may choose to retain the advice of a US lawyer outside of the United States. In that case, the lawyer would be required, under the provisions of this recently adjudicated decision, to provide advice regarding the immigration consequences of a guilty plea in a pending criminal matter.

This example illustrates one more reason why it is so important to retain the advice of an individual who is licensed to practice law in the USA. This is particularly important in a country such as Thailand where the existence of “visa companies,” “visa agents,” and unlicensed and non-accredited so-called “lawyers” and “attorneys” operate with little oversight. Many are unaware of the implications of a criminal pleading in an immigration context and this ignorance can lead to unforeseen difficulties for US Immigrants overseas.

For information about United States Immigration from Thailand please see: K1 Visa Thailand.

more Comments: 04

12th March 2010

This blog regularly discusses scam artists and fly by night operators who claim to be licensed US immigration lawyers, US “visa agents”, or “immigration consultants.” However, it was has been rare to see these people brought to justice. In recent months the New York State Attorney General has been increasingly putting pressure upon these types of operators. In a recent posting on the AILA (the American Immigration Lawyers Association) Leadership Blog the writer reports that the Attorney General’s efforts are finally bearing fruit:

“The latest victory in the fight against immigration fraud and victimization was announced by Cuomo’s office on March 1, 2010. The Attorney Generals’ Office has won a court judgment of more than $3 million against a “consultant” in Queens who has targeted and defrauded immigrants. In this case, the “consultant” routinely charged a retainer of $7,000 with fees often reaching up to $15,000 per person for the promise of permanent residence. The consultant wrongly claimed that she could get permanent resident status through alleged relationships with government officials. Of course, the services were never performed and the consultant routinely refused to give refunds or return documents.”

Refusals to provide refunds when appropriate, refusals to remit documentation, an inability to complete necessary tasks, and contentions of “special influence” are all hallmarks of these types of operators as most of these activities are either unethical or illegal. Those harmed in the matter discussed above at least have been granted some measure of recompense as the AILA Leadership Blog noted:

“As a result of Cuomo’s lawsuit, the New York Supreme Court has ordered the consultant to pay full restitution to 37 families who came forward and demonstrated that they were defrauded by this consultant. An additional $2.7 million in penalties was imposed for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and misrepresentation of services that could be performed. The consultant is also permanently restricted directly and indirectly from engaging in the business of immigration-related services.”

Hopefully, this judgment will grant some relief to those detrimentally affected by this individual’s actions. In a final quote from the Blog:

“…New York City and State continues and serves as an example for all who are committed to fighting immigration fraud and the unauthorized practice of law.”

This author could not agree more adamantly. I applaud the efforts of Attorney General Cuomo as the unlicensed practice of law is a serious issue that can have very unfortunate consequences for the “clients” of those claiming to be attorneys. As always, if seeking legal advice about any matter make certain that the person providing the advice can produce a license to practice law in the jurisdiction where they are practicing. In the case of US Immigration law, an American attorney should be able to produce a Bar Card or license promulgated by the highest court in one of the 50 United States as defined in the US Immigration and Nationality Act.

For information about US Immigration attorneys in Thailand, please see: US Visa Thailand.

more Comments: 04

25th August 2009

Apparently, the State of New York has made the decision to crack down on Immigration Consultants and so-called “visa agencies.” Only a licensed attorney or USCIS approved representative is entitled to prepare visa applications and petitions on behalf of clients pursuing United States Immigration benefits. In flagrant transgression of this rule, many companies in the United States of America provide unlicensed immigration advice. The State of New York has opted to take an aggressive position regarding this practice. To quote the a publication by the State of New York, promulgated through the American Immigration Lawyers Association:

“In thousands of cases across New York City and Long Island, these companies unlawfully filed immigration petitions with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of immigrants and their families, jeopardizing efforts to obtain legal status.”

Many people do not recognize how detrimentally these unscrupulous agencies can affect prospective immigrants’ chances of obtaining an American visa. The aforementioned publication quoted the New York Attorney General as saying:

“The consequences of bad legal advice can be absolutely devastating,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Fraudulent legal services can haunt individuals and their families for a lifetime. Companies and individuals that represent someone in a legal proceeding without having the authority to do so must be stopped, and my office will hold them accountable.”

It is good to see that local authorities in the United States are taking a firm stand against these practices. In a way, cracking down on these types of enterprises is of assistance to all immigrants and prospective immigrants because United States Immigration is a field that has been somewhat plagued by “fly by night” operations masquerading as attorneys and law firms in an effort to swindle clients out of their hard earned money.

Many of these organizations advertise “guarantees” and “full refunds” for failure to achieve desired results. In many cases, these too good to be true propositions are simply gimmicks to get unsuspecting immigrants to part with their money. Unfortunately, in Thailand “visa agencies” and those pretending to be lawyers prey upon uninformed foreigners and Thais. This practice is particularly prevalent in Thailand because many applications for visas are filed on behalf of family members who are of Thai extraction. Since Thailand is a sovereign nation independent of American legal jurisdiction, it is difficult for American authorities to apprehend those falsely claiming to be American attorneys. Therefore, the consumer environment in Thailand with regard to legal services is: Buyer Beware. Always ask if the attorney can provide a copy of their license to practice law from at least one jurisdiction in the United States.

more Comments: 04

10th August 2009

On August 6, 2009 the American Immigration Lawyers Association is reporting that two people in New York City have been arrested as a result of a fraud investigation targeted at a fraud ring headed by TONG HUI YOU (a/ka KEVIN YOU), 50, and XIAO LING CHEN (a/k/a LINDA CHEN), 36. According to the indictment these two were actively holding themselves out to the public as attorneys even though they had not been licensed as such. Further, the indictment alleges that these defendants were involved in a scheme to defraud by promising immigration benefits that they could not deliver.

Apparently, these two would bring victims to their office and, as AILA’s website reports,

“Once inside, the victim met YOU, who stated in substance that he was a lawyer specializing in express immigration. CHEN also told the victim that YOU was a lawyer. YOU represented to the victim that he had special connections in the U.S. immigration agency and in the U.S. Embassy in China. YOU guaranteed that the victim’s petitions for his family members in China would be approved within six months and that his family members in the U.S. would get green cards through a particular program even though they had not applied and did not qualify.” [Emphasis Added]

I placed sections of the above quote in bold and italics in order to underscore some important points. First, this type of scam is far too prevalent in Thailand. Many so called “lawyers,” “attorneys,” and “visa consultants,” cause all kind of problems for victims in Thailand. As if falsely claiming to be an attorney were not enough, these firms also promise many immigration benefits that the applicant is either ineligible to receive or would be improper to obtain based upon the victim’s situation. Another common claim is the “100% Guarantee.”

A variation on this scenario that is often played out in Thailand also involves the “visa company” creating false documentation in order to cover up facts that could be negatively construed. It is never wise to provide documents that attempt to cover up a fact material to the visa application. This authors has personally seen instances where doing so has lead to findings of inadmissibility that would otherwise have not arisen had it not been for the fact that the “visa agent” encouraged the couple to lie on an application.

The actions taken by the authorities in New York are commendable, but more needs to be done in order to eradicate the “visa agent” phenomenon which has become extremely prevalent in Thailand and on the internet. For those who have been adversely affected by an unscrupulous operator purporting to be an attorney or otherwise claiming to be able to assist with US Immigration matters, please see this link which provides information about where to go to complain about an “Immigration Consultant.”

For information on Getting a USA Visa from Thailand please see:

K1 Visa Thailand or K3 visa Thailand

more Comments: 04

22nd May 2009

In Thailand there are many so-called “visa agents,” “Immigration Consultants,” and “Immigration Specialists,” who sound legitimate, but who are in fact unlicensed practitioners of law. Only an attorney licensed and in good standing in at least one of the 50 United States, territories, or possessions is entitled to practice United States Immigration law. Internal memos at USCIS have even delineated exactly what constitutes the “practice of law,” for US Immigration purposes. 

According to USCIS, even advising another person about which form should be used to file for a certain type of visa constitutes the practice of law. To advise another in this manner without being duly licensed by at least one US state to practice law would constitute the UNLICENSED, and therefore UNLAWFUL practice of law. 

In the United States there is a prevalence of so-called “notarios,” these are operators who prey upon unsuspecting immigrants in both the United States and Mexico. In Thailand, these people use names such as: visa consultant, visa agent, visa specialist, immigration consultant, immigration agent, immigration specialist, legal consultant, or simply legal advisor. A problem in Thailand is the fact that the government has no mechanism for regulating us visa lawyers in Thailand. This is especially confusing for the layman because only a licensed American attorney is authorized to represent a client before USCIS. Therefore utilizing a Thai attorney or Thai law firm to prepare an immigration petition is not proper procedure per USCIS regulations if the attorney filing the petition is not licensed in the USA. 

Even worse than mere visa agents, there are those who falsely claim to be attorenys from the United States. Again, the lack of foreign attorney registration in Thailand contributes to a proliferation of this type of character.

The real problem with these outfits and unscrupulous operators is the fact that often they have no real grasp of US Immigration Law. Immigration law is one of the most complex areas of American jurisprudence and because it is entirely statute driven it can change very quickly and for a non-lawyer who does not keep abreast of new legislation the ignorance can be damaging to a client’s case. 

In cases of great complexity (601 waivers, IMBRA issues regarding fiancee visas, forum issues for K3 visas, etc.) a visa agent or anyone else without a great deal of experience and education in immigration can detrimentally affect a prospective immigrant’s chances of entry into the USA, possibly for life.

There are certain non-profit organizations that are allowed to represent immigrants before USCIS. Generally these groups deal with refugees, but in certain instances they deal with other issues. That being said, the operative term is NON-PROFIT meaing that this type of representative generally will not charge a fee, and if they do, then the fee is usually nominal.

That being said, when contacting an attorney or anyone regarding American Immigration, always ask which state the attorney is licensed in and inquire about his or her bar number.  

For more please see:

US Immigration Lawyer Thailand

K1 Visa Thailand

K3 Visa Thailand

(The information in this piece is intended for educational and informational use only and should not be used in place of an attorney consultation. For legal advice please consult a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. No attorney client relationship is formed between the reader and author of this post).

more Comments: 04

The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisement. Before you decide, ask us to send you free written information about our qualifications and experience. The information presented on this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.