The U.S. immigration system is confusing, constantly changing and often very frustrating. In addition, immigration applications with the government are legal documents, similar to filing court documents for a lawsuit. They may appear to be “just paperwork,” but in reality they deal with legal questions that affect your rights and ability to live and work in the U.S.
There are many people who apply for visas or change their immigration status or naturalize on their own. If you know your situation is fairly routine and you have the time, energy and patience to do your homework, you may not need an immigration attorney to assist you. On the other hand, many immigration matters are more complex than one might think. A generalized knowledge of the law or an application’s requirements is not the same as a detailed analysis of your case by an experienced immigration attorney. A good and experienced immigration attorney knows how to efficiently review the law and apply that law to the facts your case. Immigration law is a field where small differences or misunderstandings can lead to negative outcomes. It is riddled with deadlines and regulatory requirements.
Before Jacqueline became a lawyer, she and her husband had to decide if they should hire an immigration attorney to assist them with his application to adjust status. They did not have any major complications. They both had graduate degrees and felt they could generally understand the process and all the requirements. However, upon a closer reading of the application and accompanying forms, they decided to hire an attorney. They could not say with certainty that they understood everything, and the risk of Jacqueline’s husband not being able to live and work legally in the United States because of a mistake they made was not worth the money they would have saved by not hiring a lawyer. In this kind of situation, it is more of a personal decision. However, there are situations where not hiring an attorney would clearly be ill-advised, such as if you are in removal proceedings, or if you have a criminal conviction which jeopardizes your legal status.