All You Need to Know About Immigration Lawyers
The world of today is more interconnected than it has ever been before. This globalized world sees many people traveling to, working in, and even emigrating permanently to countries other than their own. Even with globalization, this entails dealing with a completely different country’s set of laws and regulations regarding immigration. This can be a tedious and time-consuming process, and significant familiarity with the immigration process and laws of the country you are immigrating to is needed. Fortunately, that familiarity can be hired, in the form of immigration lawyers. Immigration law is a specific part of the legal profession and has its own little quirks that are different from country to country. The skills and experience of immigration lawyers are invaluable to anyone looking to make their home in a new country.
Here we will give a brief overview of what immigration lawyers do, when do you need an immigration lawyer, how to become one, as well as general considerations in Immigration and Immigration law specifically in the United States. This can be for the reference of both people looking to hire an immigration lawyer, as well as any prospective practitioners looking to learn more about this specific legal specialty.
What Do Immigration Lawyers Do?
Simply put, immigration lawyers are concerned with helping individuals who are having difficulty with immigration requirements and the immigration process. Because of this most will work with foreign citizens in an advising or counseling role in their interaction with the domestic immigration authorities.
All the legal needs of an applicant looking to get naturalized, get a green card, or acquire citizenship involve an Immigration lawyer. Immigration lawyers are also involved in the employment of non-citizens and migrant workers, as well as deportation issues. Compared to other attorneys, immigration lawyers spend much less time handling disputes in court, more often they are working on immigration documents and mediating between authorities and prospective migrants. They do still get to step foot in court in conditions like if their client is being called for a hearing related to their immigration.
When Do You Need an Immigration Lawyer?
Most people hire immigration lawyers for assistance in the applications for any kind of immigration documents that may be required of them when going through the immigration process. This can be for anything from applying for a visa or in the case in the United States applying for their green card.
Generally, immigration lawyers are needed when an individual is unfamiliar with the immigration process and wishes to have assistance in making sure it goes smoothly. It can take many months, or even years to finish the immigration process so it is important to work with an attorney that specializes in immigration matters to keep track of everything. Immigration regulations often change as well so it can be difficult for a non-professional to stay updated on the current practices and requirements.
There are some cases however where one must hire an immigration lawyer to give advice and make any appeals in their name. These are special cases that make it so the normal process of immigration cannot be completed.
Some fringe cases like this include the following.
Denied Prior Applications
It may not always be obvious to an applicant why their application is denied. Hiring an immigration lawyer may be beneficial if an application is denied because they will be able to determine the exact reason for it. If they find there is insufficient cause for the denial, they may move to appeal the application, or if there is, advise the applicant when re-applying at a later date.
Some medical conditions could prevent a person from entering another country. There are very few medical conditions that fall under this, as most do not discriminate based on this, but there are certain communicable diseases and mental conditions that the immigration authorities determine to be a danger to the public health or safety of their nation. In this case, immigration lawyers can help appeal your case.
Previously Been Deported
If a prospective applicant has been previously deported from a country or has been listed for exclusion from entry, they may be barred from any future legal applications for immigration. Immigration lawyers can help assess the situation and the applicant’s options moving forward when this is the case.
A Criminal Record
Having a criminal record can be detrimental to your chances when going through the immigration process. In the United States, almost all forms to be filled out by an applicant ask whether they have been convicted of a crime.
Usually, the applicant’s entire criminal record will need to be disclosed to the immigration, even for any charges that were dropped. Immigration lawyers can help identify the overlap between immigration and criminal law, increasing an applicant’s chances when going through the immigration process.
Lack of Assistance from their Employer
If an applicant is looking to enter with an employment visa it involves a wholly different but equally complicated process. It does not help as well when an applicant’s prospective employer does not lend any assistance in the immigration process. It can be very beneficial to have an immigration lawyer in this instance to make sure that employers fulfill their obligations to migrant workers.
Terminated Marriage with a Citizen
Many migrants can apply for visas by being married to a citizen. Most of the time these applications are filed jointly by both parties. If the marriage itself is terminated either by a divorce or the death of one of the individuals, the rest of the immigration process can get complicated then. This is because the applicant will have to provide proof that the marriage was not fraudulent. Immigration lawyers can help work this out and have the conditional status of the applicant’s residency removed.
Children Reaching the Age of 21
The problem that arises here is that in most countries the eligibility for permanent residency or citizenship is different for children and adults. In the United States, the age is 21 years old. This could complicate the process if the application is not yet approved before a person turns 21. Having immigration lawyers look into this can help parents determine the best ways to file applications for their children.
How Much Does it Cost to Hire Immigration Lawyers?
When looking for immigration lawyers, many people’s first instinct is to ask how much it will cost them. This is a reasonable and rather natural response, as legal fees can quickly stack up. The cost will always depend on the nature and complexity of the case that needs to be handled, as well as the scope of the work that is needed by the client from their attorney. In the case of Immigration lawyers, they can either charge an hourly rate or a fixed rate for the entire process.
Immigration Lawyer Cost Factors
Several factors can impact the costs a client can incur from their immigration attorney, such as:
The Specific Case
The cost of a lawyer’s services will depend on a case-by-case basis. Because the amount of work and the nature of it will depend on the client’s needs. It will not cost the same to request guidance in filing for a visa as to hire an attorney to represent you on a deportation case.
The Experience of the Attorney
In the legal profession, reputation and experience come at a premium. Although you can indeed find competent immigration lawyers that are less experienced, having someone that has worked with clients that have been in similar situations may give you a substantial advantage.
Depending on what state and city your attorney is based out of, the prices they charge may vary quite a bit.
Immigration Lawyers Pricing
If the attorney you hire charges an hourly rate, it is likely to be somewhere between $150 – $300 per hour. Like mentioned earlier however some charge a fixed rate for the entire process.
If they will be providing legal assistance to fill out basic immigration forms this should cost an applicant somewhere between $250 – $1,200 in legal fees. Depending on the services needed, the prices can range significantly.
For an application for an employment visa, immigration lawyers can charge anywhere between $250 – $500. For the application of naturalization or US citizenship, it can cost somewhere in the realm of $500 to $1,200, whereas their legal assistance in applying for asylum in the US can be $1000 – $3000.
Here is a list of other common Immigration types and the range of their associated cost in terms of legal fees.
- Family Green Card Petition: $800 – $1,500
- Adjustment of Status Application: $600 – $1,200
- Employment Green Card Petitions: $1,500 – $5,000
- Deportation Defense: $2,000 – $10,000
Other Associated Costs
Aside from the fees of immigration lawyers, you can expect to be charged a certain amount by the USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) depending on what you are applying for. The fees incurred from the USCIS can range from $460 – $700 on average.
Here is a shortlist of some of the fees charged for certain kinds of visas:
- H-1B Visa Work Visa: $460 – $2,460
- H-4 Visa Work Visa: $370
Green Card fees
- Employer Labor Certification: $700
- L-1A Visa Holders: $700
- Outstanding Researchers: $700
- Adjustment of Status – I-140 Based: $1,225
US Citizenship fees
- N-400 Application for Naturalization: $725
Finding an Immigration Lawyer
It is often somewhat challenging looking for a qualified legal representative for a US immigration case. One of the most important points that need to be considered by a potential client is if their prospective legal representative is lawfully allowed to represent them in these matters in the first place.
Of course, it is best to contact an attorney you trust to inquire about their advice. However, a bit of knowledge of the regulations and framework that governs legal practice in the United States is an added advantage to you.
In the United States, immigration laws fall under the jurisdiction of the US Federal Government. Because of this, one should consider the federal statutes and regulations given by federal agencies that are tasked with the administration of immigration law. Probably the most significant of these regulations are found in title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations or “8 CFR”. This states who exactly are permitted to represent clients in immigration cases before the relevant Immigration and Border Protection Authorities.
These include the following.
Attorneys in the United States
This refers to an attorney who is a member and in good standing of the bar.
Attorneys Outside of the United States
Attorneys who are licensed to practice law from other countries may represent someone in an immigration law case. There are certain conditions, however. For one, they may only represent persons in matters outside of the territory of the United States, and the officials that they have to appear to in US courts may allow such a representation under their discretion.
Law Students and Graduates Not Yet Admitted into the Bar
Law Students and Graduates not yet admitted into the Bar can represent a client in an immigration case. Provided that they are under the supervision of an accredited attorney, accredited representative, or a faculty member of their educational institution. They must also be allowed to represent by the official that they will appear before, and it must be at the request of the client that they represent them.
An accredited official refers to an official from the government that the migrant owes allegiance to. They may represent the client provided they appear solely in their official capacity and receive the consent of the client to represent them.
An accredited representative refers to an individual that represents a non-profit religious, charitable, social service, or similar organization that was established and is based in the United States. This organization must be recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals. They may represent a client on immigration matters.
Finally, a reputable individual may also represent a person in an immigration case. A reputable individual is a person that is of good moral character that has an established relationship with the client (relative, friend, business associate, so on). This must be permitted by the official that they will appear before, and only appear on an individual case basis at the request of the client.
Not all of these options are made equal or are entirely realistic for all would-be migrants. For a better idea of what kind of immigration lawyers and law firms are out there, we recommend looking at the website of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) to see their members and more information on American Immigration Lawyers.
How to Become an Immigration Lawyer?
For those looking to get into the legal profession, it could be an interesting choice to specialize in immigration law. Immigration law is an intersectional practice that involves knowledge of many different fields such as criminal law, civil rights law, constitutional law, family law, education law, and business law to just name a few.
Aside from this, practitioners of immigration law have many opportunities to interact with people from other countries and cultures and involve themselves in human rights issues and the lively debates on immigration that have been going on in the political sphere for the past years.
A person with a passion for helping others will be right at home as an Immigration lawyer as they help individuals and families from abroad navigate the complicated legal matters to make their way into the United States to work, study, and make a life within its borders.
All legal professions start with a Graduate’s degree in law, regardless of the eventual field of practice, specifically the Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degree program. The Juris Doctor program is a graduate program necessary to the professional practice of law and is one of many Doctor of law degrees offered in law schools.
No specific bachelor’s degree or “pre-law” major is required to pursue the Juris Doctor program. However, some degrees can prepare you better for your future career path in immigration law. These include majors like Political Science, Economics, Social Science, History, Philosophy, Business, and the like.
The American Bar Association recommends that anyone looking to get into a law profession in any field pursue extracurricular and educational experiences in the field to help develop the skills and attitude needed in the practice of law. Any pursuit that promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, public service, and the promotion of justice can fall under this.
In Law School
When acquiring your degree you will need to make sure to choose specializations that are related to Immigration law. This is not strictly necessary, but the training you will get and experience will be invaluable when you start working. It will also be a boon for finding employment in the field as clients and firms working in immigration law will want to look for prospective attorneys that have legal experience in that field, aside from your law school coursework.
The program will include a curriculum of required courses that all students will take, as well as electives that line up with their interests. These can be a vital foundation for your future career so be sure to check if the school you are attending offers anything related to immigration law. For additional hands-on experience, you could also try joining pro bono activities and inter/externship programs, as well as any student groups that line up with your career goals.
The Juris Doctor Degree is enough to practice law in the United States, but graduates may also choose to pursue further degrees in law such as the Master of Laws (LLM) or the Doctor of Judicial Science (JSD) degrees. Individuals who pursue these are generally on the path to teaching law themselves or getting into the research field.
Practicing Immigration Law in the US
Immigration has traditionally meant foreign-born individuals looking to enter into a different country to become permanent residents. However, the immigration law does not only cover these individuals. It has come to encompass all people looking to enter the country that is non-citizens, whether these be students, tourists, people on business, and people seeking refuge or asylum. All of these groups at one point or another need legal assistance when coming into the United States, and dealing with the complex processes and bureaucracy set up by the Federal government to handle immigration.
The topic of Immigration law has always been a sensitive one, with the topic of illegal immigration often able to fan the flames in the political sphere. There are certainly immigration lawyers that specialize in representing undocumented migrants, many more immigration lawyers specialize primarily in the more routine functions in legal channels of entry. These may include the processing of visas, applications for residency, and applications for citizenship. Giving advice and assisting applicants on the filling of paperwork and the processing of documents, as well as guiding through the bureaucratic maze that the process often presents is what immigration lawyers do.
Most immigration lawyers end up working in relatively small firms or with non-profit organizations focused on social justice causes. One example of this is the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC). Despite this, some immigration lawyers end up working for large corporations. They sometimes employ attorneys that have immigration law as their legal specialization to assist them in processing business visas and professional immigration for the prospective foreign-born hires that they wish to bring to the states for their particular skills. You may also see some employment opportunities in certain universities that have immigration lawyers among their staff to handle educational visas and create policies for foreign students.
In general, people have a perception that lawyers are paid well, and they are. It’s not as simple as that though. Depending on their particular field, the services they offer, and even where in the country they practice law can affect an individual lawyer’s salary, even if they operate in the same legal specialty.
According to figures from the United States Department of Labor, the median annual wage for lawyers in the US is around $120,000. Of this, the highest-paid tend to be employed either by the Federal government or by large successful law firms.
With this in mind, the salary that a lawyer that specializes in immigration law can be said to be generally lower than the average for most lawyers in the country. Many such lawyers fill the ranks of NGOs and nonprofits that work to help people who would not have access to legal assistance otherwise.
The general atmosphere of immigration lawyers is one of public service and commitment to justice. On the bright side, satisfaction rates are much higher with these kinds of public interest lawyers. Many immigration lawyers are known to go into solo practice, however, giving them more flexibility in finding clientele and making a name for themselves.
More About Immigration
Immigration is the movement of people to another country, where they are not natives or citizens to become citizens or permanent residents in that destination country.
Immigration is generally seen as a positive by economists, for both the ones immigrating and the country receiving the immigrants. However, immigration is a complex issue, both socially and politically, and it is often a hot topic for debate among policymakers and their constituents, especially in nations like the United States.
The specific definitions of immigration state that the individuals coming to a country have to be seeking permanent residency or citizenship. So this definition excludes tourists and short-term stays in the country. A possible exception to this is seasonal labor, with foreign migrant workers working for set periods of time in a different county. Sometimes this is included in the definition of “immigration”.
The United States has several classifications on types of immigrant status, that we will go through here.
Lawful Permanent Resident
Lawful permanent residents are foreign-born non-citizens that are allowed to live and work permanently within the United States. These are individuals who have been granted their green cards or their permanent residence card. There are a few visa categories that allow a migrant to apply for lawful permanent resident status. Such as Family-based visas, Employment-based visas, and Diversity-based visas.
Conditional Permanent Resident
Conditional permanent residents are foreign-born individuals who are residents by being the spouse, or children of a US citizen that have applied for and are undergoing the process of becoming lawful permanent residents.
The conditional status is temporary however and expires upon the second year of having obtained conditional permanent resident status unless they have applied for lawful permanent resident status jointly with their spouse.
Naturalized citizens are foreign-born individuals who have met all the requirements for becoming a US citizen.
VAWA Self Petitioner
A foreign-born individual that is a spouse or a child of a United States citizen can apply for legal permanent resident status by self-petition, without the permission or cooperation of their parent or spouse if certain conditions are met. Such as being subjected to extreme cruelty (including physical violence and sexual abuse) by their citizen or LPR parent/spouse.
Individuals that have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, political affiliation, and more. They, in their home country or current country of residence, may receive refugee status to remain in the United States provided that they are not a national security threat and have not committed certain crimes.
They must apply for refugee status within one year of admission into the United States. Refugees are allowed to stay within US territory for as long as expulsion would put them at a security risk. This status may be terminated if the individual in question can safely return to their home country or move to another country.
Immigration Law in the US
The United States of America is a nation of Immigrants. Even today large numbers of people from all over the world move into the USA to make a permanent home, with the promise of prosperity and freedom as alive today as when the first colonists set foot on the continent.
Most of these immigrants are perfectly legal, but there are a good number of illegal immigrants, which has become a point of contention in American policy and politics for many years now. This came to a head with the administration of former president Donald Trump implementing a zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration from America’s southern border with Mexico. The current Biden administration is looking to be more open again but it is a complex issue.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS is a Federal Bureau in the United States of America and comes under the DHS or Department of Homeland Security. This department is responsible for handling the system of immigration into the United States. They are the agency that every foreign person that is looking to go to the US, whether for permanent residence or work, has to interact and deal with.
The USCIS is a recent version of the former INS or Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was closed down in the year 2002 and replaced by three different bodies that are currently known as USCIS, ICE, and CBP, all under the authority of the United States Department of Homeland Security.
The functions of the USCIS include the processing of visa applications, naturalization applications, applications for adjustment of status, refugee and asylum applications, as well as immigration benefits functions, and adjudicating petitions for non-immigrant temporary workers. However, it does not handle immigration enforcement, unlike the former INS that it replaced.