How to Avoid Immigration Fraud

How to Avoid Immigration Fraud

Immigration is a complicated area of law, the intricacies of which often overwhelm visa applicants. Scams abound with fraudsters preying on innocent victims who sometimes lose large amounts of money and suffer negative immigration consequences that may include a permanent bar on travel to the United States as well as detention and deportation for those who have already entered the U.S.1 Thus, how to avoid immigration fraud is one of the most important questions prospective travelers may face.

The Immigration Law Office of L. Ford Banister, II2 is a law practice dedicated to the proposition that every person and matter, no matter how small, deserves competent and qualified legal representation.3 In order to make immigration law services available to those who might otherwise feel forced to seek the assistance of various “visa agencies,” or “notarios” we offer reasonably priced flat fee service packages which begin at just $199.99 for basic application review service.

We are in the business of providing legal services. We hope you will hire our firm to represent you. However, our greatest hope is that every applicant will receive the high grade of legal services that they deserve. In order to avoid immigration fraud, follow these simple steps:

Retain a Qualified American Travel Visa Lawyer

This is straightforward and perhaps common sense advice. However, those who pose as “visa agents” attempt to make a strong case for their purported services, often pointing to their own low prices and contrasting them with the sometimes but not always relatively high fees charged by most law firms. It is therefore necessary to fully explain why an American travel visa applicant should hire an immigration attorney rather than a so called “visa agency.”

“You Get What You Pay For”

This is a common American phrase that has linguistic equivalents in many countries. In short, an American visa lawyer is qualified to legal render advice. “Visa agencies” are not. No person or company except for an immigration attorney or law firm can do anything for a visa applicant other than assist in filling out forms. No price differential can remedy this simple fact. The choice between an immigration attorney and a “visa agency” is a choice between competent service and no service at all.

American Lawyer Training Process

Consider the qualification process for an American attorney. Every attorney must have a bachelor’s degree in order to obtain a second specialized law degree. Entry into a specialized law program is highly competitive and requires achieving a passing score on the Law School Admission Test (“LSAT”). In most cases, including my own, the second degree is a Juris Doctorate, also known as a J.D., a doctorate of law. This degree usually takes three years to complete. After graduating from law school, an aspiring lawyer must pass what is commonly referred to as the “bar exam.” This test is notoriously difficult, has a high failure rate, and lasts two to three days depending on the state. The aspiring lawyer must then pass a specialized ethics test known as the Multistate Professional Ethics Examination (“MPRE”) which tests knowledge of legal ethics. After all of this preparation is completed, in a process known as “character and fitness,” a thorough background investigation is conducted and each applicant is examined by senior members of the profession. Only after completing this arduous journey which may take a decade or more in some cases to complete, is an aspiring attorney permitted to practice law.4 In contrast, “visa agencies” have none of these qualifications.

American Lawyer Ethics

American attorneys are also subject to strict codes of discipline which require honesty in dealing with clients, adversaries and the government. An immigration attorney’s role is to help visa applicants present a truthful application. Many “visa agencies” counsel applicants to lie to consular officers, to misrepresent the purpose of their travel and/or to present fake documents. The consular officers who conduct travel visa interviews are highly trained and skilled at spotting attempted deceptions. The consequences of immigration fraud are far reaching and may include a lifetime bar to entry to the United States. Even innocent errors made by an unqualified agent who assists in filling out forms may result in the denial of the application as well as additional negative complications for which there may be no ultimate remedy.

Identifying an Immigration Attorney

So you have made the wise choice to retain a qualified American travel visa lawyer. How do you know that someone is actually an immigration attorney? First, look for the name of an actual attorney rather than a company or firm name. It is common to find visa agencies or fraudsters whose websites proclaim something the effect of “Our American travel visa lawyers have extensive experience and will take great care of you!” or refer vaguely to “our attorneys” without actually stating the name of any person. The State of New York, which holds my attorney registration, does not permit an attorney to practice law under a trade name.5 For example, if a lawyer’s name is Zebulon Zebediah and he becomes tired of always being the last name listed in the attorney directory or phonebook, he cannot instead call his firm the Aaaaaaaaawesome Law Firm! In hopes of being the first name on the list. The firm name must contain the names of lawyers who are actively practicing in the firm.6 Many states do allow attorneys to practice under trade names. However, the name of an actual attorney should always be readily available on the website.

Verifying an Immigration Attorney

Now you have found a purported attorney who you think you might like to work with. How do you confirm that the website and the purported attorney are in fact legitimate? Each American state regulates the practice of law within its own territory. Immigration is a federal issue so an attorney admitted in one state may practice immigration law throughout the U.S. and at U.S. consular posts around the world. States vary in allowing out of state immigration attorneys to maintain offices within their borders for the practice of immigration law only though all admitted attorneys may travel into any U.S. state or territory to practice their profession. Attorney registration is easily verifiable via the website of the state or territorial body where the attorney is admitted to practice law.7 If you cannot verify an attorney’s license via the internet, contact the law firm directly and ask to verify the license of each purported attorney. A bona fide law firm will not hesitate to provide this information to you.

Conclusion

Immigration scams take many forms which cannot be explored in a single article. Following the simple steps outlined above will greatly reduce if not eliminate the possibility that you may become a victim of immigration fraud.

For further information on how to avoid immigration fraud, visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Contact The Immigration Law Office of L. Ford Banister, II today for a Free Consultation regarding waivers of inadmissibility, reapplications, medical treatment and childbirth visas.

1 For a thorough discussion of common methods of deception and how to avoid immigration fraud, see Joseph M. Gietl, Like Lambs to the Slaughter: How Unregulated Immigration Practitioners Harm Immigrants, 19 Pub. Interest L. Rptr. 66 (2013). Available at: http://lawecommons.luc.edu/pilr/vol19/iss1/11.

2 Attorney Larry Ford Banister, II is an active member of the New York Bar and is authorized to practice immigration law throughout the United States and before U.S. consular posts around the world. Attorney Banister’s registration status and good standing may be verified at the following web address: http://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/attorney/AttorneyDetails?attorneyId=330088196.

3 See the firm’s blog post entitled My Mission, which discusses Attorney Ford Banister’s dedication to helping clients avoid immigration fraud, at http://americantravelvisa.com/my-mission/.

4 For an outline of the steps necessary to become an American immigration attorney, see http://www.lawyeredu.org/new-york.html. Note that procedures are in place for foreign lawyers and those holding varying types of advanced degrees to take the New York examination. Qualifications and admissions procedures vary by state.

5 See N.Y. Rules of Professional Conduct [22 NYCRR 1200.0] rule 7.5 [b].

6 New York Legal Ethics Reporter, http://www.newyorklegalethics.com/whats-in-a-name-more-than-meets-the-eye/ [accessed August 23, 2016].

7 Avoid immigration fraud. To verify the license of a New York attorney, visit http://nycourts.gov/attorneys/registration/index.shtml.