Friday, March 16, 2012

Avoiding Immigration Law Scams: Common Scams

If you need legal advice on immigration matters, make sure that the person you rely on is authorized to give you legal advice. Only an attorney or an accredited representative working for a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized organization can give you legal advice. 

The Internet, newspapers, radio, community bulletin boards and storefronts are filled with advertisements offering immigration help. Not all of this information is from attorneys and accredited representatives. There is a lot of information that comes from organizations and individuals who are not authorized to give you legal advice, such as “notarios” and other unauthorized representatives. The wrong help can hurt. Here is some important information that can help you avoid common immigration scams.

Notario Publico

In many Latin American countries, the term “notario publico” (for “notary public”) stands for something very different than what it means in the United States. In many Spanish-speaking nations, “notarios” are powerful attorneys with special legal credentials. In the U.S., however, notary publics are people appointed by state governments to witness the signing of important documents and administer oaths. "Notarios publico,” are not authorized to provide you with any legal services related to immigration.

Local Businesses

Some businesses in your community “guarantee” they can get you benefits such as a:

  • Visa
  • Green Card
  • Employment Authorization Document

These businesses sometimes charge you a higher fee to file the application than USCIS charges. They claim they can do this faster than if you applied directly with USCIS. These claims are false. There are few exceptions to the normal USCIS processing times.  

Dot-com websites

Some websites offering step-by-step guidance on completing a USCIS application or petition will claim to be affiliated with USCIS. USCIS has its own official website with:

  • Free downloadable forms
  • Form Instructions
  • Information on filing fees and processing times

Do not pay for blank USCIS forms either in person or over the Internet.

Visa Lottery

Once a year, the Department of State (DOS) makes 50,000 diversity visas (DVs) available via random selection to persons meeting strict eligibility requirements and who come from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. During this time, it is common for immigration scammers to advertise in emails or websites that reference either the:

  • DV lottery
  • Visa lottery
  • Green Card lottery

These emails and websites often claim that they can make it easier to enter the annual Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, for a fee. Some even identify you as a DV lottery “winner.”

These emails and websites are fraudulent. The only way to apply for the DV lottery is through an official government application process. DOS does not send emails to applicants. Visit the Department of State website to verify if you are actually a winner in the DV lottery or for information on how to submit an application for a DV lottery visa.


To this day, some local businesses, websites and individuals make reference to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This agency no longer exists!

INS was dismantled on March 1, 2003, and most of its functions were transferred from the Department of Justice to three new components within the newly formed Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the component that grants immigration benefits. The other two components are U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

All official correspondence regarding your immigration case will come from USCIS.

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