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.
Do not fall victim to telephone scammers posing as USCIS personnel or other government officials. In most instances, scammers will:
• request personal information (Social Security number, Passport number, or A-number);
• identify false problems with your immigration record; and
• ask for payment to correct the records.
If a scammer calls you, say “No, thank you” and hang up. These phone calls are being made by immigration scammers attempting to take your money and your credit card information. USCIS will not call you to ask for any form of payment over the phone. Don’t give payment over the phone to anyone who claims to be a USCIS official.
If you have been a victim of this telephone scam, please report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Learn more about telephone scams and telephone scammers’ techniques by visiting Federal Trade Commission-Telemarketing-Scams.
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.
Please see the National Notary Association website “What is a Notary Public” for more information.
Some businesses in your community “guarantee” they can get you benefits such as a:
• 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. Visit our National Processing Volumes and Trends page for more information.
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.
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.
INS or USCIS?
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.
Form Filing Tips
It’s important for you to understand how the USCIS application process works. Knowing the facts will help you avoid scams.
Top 10 Tips Before You File
1. The official website for USCIS is www.uscis.gov.
2. USCIS does not charge you a fee to download forms. Visit our Forms page to get free forms and learn more about filing fees.
3. Read the form instructions before completing the form. Remember to fill in all required fields and send in any required documentation.
4. You must sign your form before sending it to USCIS.
5. Before you sign an immigration form make sure that you understand it and that the information on it is true and accurate.
6. Never sign blank forms.
7. USCIS requires you to pay a filing fee for most forms. Please see the list of fees on our website.
8. You can pay filing fees with a money order, certified check or valid credit card.
9. Make sure you get a receipt for any payment you make to an attorney or accredited representative.
10. Keep copies of all forms and other documents that you file with USCIS.
Top 3 Tips After You File
1. USCIS will mail you a receipt after we receive your application. Make sure to keep the receipt for your records.
2. Use the receipt number on your receipt to track the status of your application online.
3. If you have questions about your application, you can make a free Infopass appointment to visit a USCIS office and speak with an immigration officer.
Tips for Working with an Attorney or Accredited Representative
• If you’re working with an attorney, check with the state bar association to verify that the attorney is eligible to practice in—and is a member in good standing of the bar of the highest court of—any U.S. state, possession, territory or commonwealth, or the District of Columbia.
• If working with a non-attorney, verify whether the individual is an accredited representative of an organization recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
• Know the law in your state. Some states have specific laws regulating immigration consultants.
• If you are unsure whether your immigration service provider is giving trustworthy advice, do not hesitate to seek a second opinion. When doing so, always work with a licensed attorney or BIA-accredited representative.