Securing work visas, adjusting immigration status, and dealing with other immigration matters can be confusing. Unfortunately, some businesses try to make money through immigration fraud. They exploit those seeking immigration law services.
Although most immigration law practitioners mean well, some take advantage of unsuspecting clients. Such fraudulent services can delay an application or cost petitioners unnecessary fees. Sometimes, it can lead to removal proceedings, deportation, or adverse immigration consequences.
This article covers the following topics:
- The most common forms of immigration fraud
- Tips for avoiding scams
- Resources for reporting immigration fraud
- Initiatives by the Executive Office of Immigration Review and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that fight immigration fraud
Common Types of Immigration Fraud
Immigration fraud includes selling immigration forms the U.S. government provides for free. Or legal services offered by people unauthorized to practice law. Sometimes these scams promise extra fast immigration services. We discuss other common types of immigration fraud below.
One of the most common forms of immigration fraud is marriage fraud. This is when a foreign national marries a U.S. Citizen or a lawful permanent resident to gain immigration benefits. A U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident may sometimes take part in this scam. But they can also be an unsuspecting victim.
The DHS, USCIS, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) take marriage fraud seriously. And if caught, the alien or nonimmigrant (temporary visitor) may be deported. The parties may face charges if the marriage was entered fraudulently, and both are aware of it.
Businesses Promising Premium Services
Some businesses may offer premium services, even "guarantees," of visas, green cards, employment authorization documents, or other immigration benefits. Typically, they will charge a higher fee than what the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would charge. Sometimes they may involve immigration consultants not qualified to offer these services.
Sometimes they even claim they can file and process your application faster than going directly to the federal agency. These claims are usually false and can be a form of benefit fraud.
While some exceptions exist to normal USCIS application processing times (see the USCIS website for more information), supposed immigration service providers cannot influence these time frames. A licensed immigration attorney would be your best source of legal advice on these matters.
Non-Governmental Web Sites
Some websites offer specific, step-by-step instructions for filling out applications. They may also ask for a fee for downloadable immigration forms. Scammers often claim affiliation with the USCIS, although this is usually untrue. This false information can easily mislead applicants. In some cases, it can even lead to unintentional immigration consequences.
Even if the instructions for the immigration procedure seem correct, make sure you refer to the USCIS website. USCIS is an authoritative source of information. The website offers downloadable immigration forms for free. These sites also have detailed instructions about processing times and filing fees.
Visa Lottery Claims
To encourage more applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S., the U.S. Department of State (DOS) offers 50,000 "diversity visas" (DVs). Those who meet the eligibility requirements may receive these offers via random selection. Thus, claims to "guarantee" selection or improve one's chances of getting a DV are always fraudulent.
Typically, fraudulent offers come in the form of unsolicited emails or online advertisements. They often reference the terms "DV lottery," "visa lottery," or "green card lottery." The only way to apply for the DV lottery is by filing an official application with the DOS, which does not send emails to applicants.
Identity Theft and Social Security Fraud
Another prevalent form of immigration fraud is identity theft and Social Security fraud. According to Social Security Administration, identity theft is a growing crime in the country. Here, a person may steal one's identity for various purposes. But the most common goal is to work in the U.S. illegally or avoid deportation. This fraud can significantly affect the victim's employment, credit, or tax records.
Services Offered by 'Notario Publicos'
In the U.S., a "notary public" is a person authorized to authenticate signatures on legal documents, among other duties. But a notary public is not necessarily a legal professional.
In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, the Spanish translation of notary public is "notario publico." Notario Publico refers to a legal professional authorized to:
- Practice law
- Mediate or arbitrate disputes
- Issue judicial opinions
- Check the accuracy and integrity of certain legal documents
In the U.S., if a "notario publico" promises to provide services related to immigration issues in ways they are not allowed to, it could be misrepresentation and illegal law practice. There may also be some confusion with the term not involving outright fraud.
Tips for Avoiding Immigration Fraud
Applying for a visa or adjusting one's immigration status can be daunting. Especially for people who are unfamiliar with the immigration system and the law. Here are some tips to help you avoid some of the more common immigration scams:
- USCIS never charges a fee to download immigration forms; forms are on the USCIS forms page.
- Read all form instructions carefully and fill in all required fields.
- Remember to review your form, make sure you fully understand it and sign it before sending it to the USCIS.
- Do not sign blank forms.
- Filing fees are accepted via money order, certified check, or credit card.
- Keep copies of all original documents, including forms filed with the USCIS.
- Get a receipt for any payment made to an immigration attorney or accredited representative.
- Verify your immigration attorney's membership through the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA's directory). If you are working with an immigration lawyer, it is not always necessary that they be licensed in your state since immigration law is federal.
- Consider seeking a second opinion if you have doubts about the professional handling your case.
How to Report Immigration Scams
If you believe you have been the victim of immigration fraud, you may report the alleged scam. There are various government agencies where you can file a report. Included among them is the Federal Trade Commission. You can also file a petition under the Immigration and National Act (INA) outlined in the United States Code (U.S.C.). Or report the case to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This division of DHS enforces federal laws that involve border control, trade, customs, and immigration. These law enforcement agencies are also trained to handle these cases with confidentiality. They can also provide referrals to the proper authorities.
Reporting an incident of immigration fraud will not affect your immigration case. Thus, you must take the necessary steps to properly handle your application or petition.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), in connection with the office of the Attorney General, also provides sources that address immigration fraud. The USCIS also offers a state-by-state directory and contact information to report suspected cases of immigration fraud. There are also ample resources about immigration law on the FindLaw website.
Seek Legal Services
Immigration fraud can seriously affect a person's eligibility for a visa or naturalization. It can also potentially jeopardize your status as a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen. If you experience immigration fraud or suspect it, talk to an experienced immigration attorney immediately.
Also, ensure that you are speaking with a reputable professional. Whether you speak with an attorney or a non-attorney, this should be the case. There are various options to verify a professional's credibility. You can do this by looking at the state bar association or the AILA website. FindLaw also has a directory of Immigration Attorneys in each state.
Any material relating to your case should be disclosed truthfully to an authorized attorney.
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Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you get the best results possible.