I am a licensed immigration attorney, but that is not the only reason I recommend prospective clients to hire a lawyer for their legal needs. Attorney representation may save you many hours of work, case delays and a lot of headache!
Nevertheless, if you have the time, patience and courage to prepare and file your case on your own, good for you! To maximize your chances of success, follow these 5 simple but very important tips:
1 – READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!
I once tried to assemble a bookshelf without unfolding the instruction pamphlet because it looked soooo easy. I ended up with crooked, upside down shelves. When you skip the instructions on an immigration case, your shelves may be straight, but you may end up with a rejection or denial notice that could have been avoided.
You should carefully review and follow the instructions for EACH INDIVIDUAL FORM you are submitting to USCIS. Make sure you complete the form according to the instructions and submit all the required documentation listed therein.
After you read the instructions for each individual form you are filing, review USCIS’ website at www.uscis.gov for updated fee information, filing locations and addresses. A little box left unchecked may cause months of delay or eventually a denial of your case.
2 – PROOFREAD FORMS MORE THAN ONCE.
Once you complete the forms, take a break and review them a few hours later. Make sure you proofread all fields and check dates and spelling against your civil documents. Trying to get a birth date corrected after the issuance of an Employment Authorization Document may take months and many dollars. In the end, a tiny little typo may end up costing you more money than if you had hired a competent attorney in the first place.
3 – DON’T RELY ON LEGAL ADVICE FROM THE IMMIGRATION SERVICE.
Immigration’s customer service has considerably improved in the last few years. Nowadays, useful information is readily available on their website, telephone wait times are reasonable and, in some cases, you can even make an appointment to speak to an officer, in person, at your local office.
You may scoff if you are reading this after listening to USCIS’ earworm hold music for 55 minutes and having your call mysteriously disconnect. I say, hang in there! (or hire a lawyer!). I recall having to wait in line for EIGHT hours just to get a form from legacy INS many years back.
When you finally reach that officer, who by the way can be very nice and helpful, get whatever information you can from him or her but take it all with a grain of salt. Blindly relying on USCIS advice may prove fatal to your case. Call USCIS to check on the status of your case or to request a form but only get legal advice from a licensed U.S. attorney!
4 – DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR FRIENDS!
It is wonderful to have friends! It is unfortunate when they show up full of good intentions and bad advice. One of the most frequent phrases I hear during a (bad) case evaluation or consultation is “But my friend told me...”
Remember: every case is unique because of differences in facts and circumstances in our lives. Just because your friend filed his or her own case and it worked, it does not mean your case will work just the same way. DO ask friends about their experience during their immigration process or their secret chocolate cake recipe. DO NOT take legal advice from non-lawyers. The stakes are too high. If you want to gamble with your legal status, you better be prepared to lose it.
5 – TELL THE TRUTH.
Omitting a fact or lying on an immigration form is a VERY BAD IDEA. Some spots in your immigration history may or may not be fatal to your eligibility to obtain a benefit. Intentional misrepresentation, on the other hand, will certainly affect your case. A little lie may lead to denial of an application, deportation and even a revocation of a previously granted status or benefit.
Also, remember that most immigration forms are signed under penalty of perjury. In addition to facing the Immigration Services’ ire, you may be thrown in jail for a criminal perjury conviction. If your facts are muddy, drop your DYI kit, grab your phone and call an immigration lawyer.