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You should seriously consider having a lawyer prepare your marriage-based case, for many reasons.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: we’re a law firm; we’re obviously biased in favor of having professional legal help on almost any kind of immigration filing. This said, even if you do choose to work with an attorney it may not be our office – and even if you don’t, our office or another attorney may earn just as much later fixing what went wrong.
Many people do file this type of case without a lawyer, and some of them succeed – we’ve all heard those stories.
However, a great many of these cases do not succeed – or at the least follow a long, uncertain path to eventual success. Most people don’t hear as many of these stories, either because the people who would be telling them are simply embarrassed…or perhaps because they aren’t even present in the U.S. to be telling them. Immigration lawyers certainly hear these stories when very scared, very sad people come to us asking that we “fix things.” Sometimes, after it’s far too late to do so.
What happens with these cases? Sometimes there is some type of problem with the substance of the case itself, or because some part of the case has gone off track and the couple filing do not know how to respond to it. Often, the problem could have been avoided if the case was simply presented in a certain specific way, if the correct documentation was submitted, or if the correct procedure were followed (though even for attorneys, positive results often take time). In some cases, the answer may have simply been to wait until a certain point in time to file – or even not to file at all.
Ultimately, it is always safer to have a lawyer handle the matter yourself even if you believe that there will be no major issues with your case. At the very least, the foreign national and U.S. citizen spouse should seek a consultation with a lawyer to determine whether there will be any dangers in filing, or any specific issues of which they need to be aware. An attorney is best qualified both to recognize potential legal issues and to know how to handle them.
While some potential problems are easily recognizable, such as prior convictions of crimes, some are not so obvious. These problems may include employment which the foreign national believed was authorized but in fact was not, travel abroad which – though no problems arose at the time – can present grounds for exclusion now, a method of entering the U.S. which disqualifies the foreign national from Adjusting Status, or any number of bars to admissibility or grounds for inadmissibility. A lawyer will be able to recognize such issues and will know how best to deal with them.
Even if there is no issue which is likely to cause concern to USCIS, sometimes something out of the ordinary will occur which derails processing of the case. This may include delays in reporting of the results of fingerprint checks or, especially in the busier District Offices, misplacement of a file. Often a file will proceed normally through to the interview, but at the time of interview the officer will request additional documentation. Even if the documentation is provided quickly, it often will not be matched with a file or come to the original officer’s attention. An attorney will, first of all, be better able to ensure that all the necessary documents are included and all potential issues addressed from the time the case is filed. If something happens to derail processing in spite of the attorney’s best efforts to submit a complete filing, the attorney’s experience in dealing with USCIS represents the best chance for getting the case moving again.
Finally, what should be the least significant factor in deciding given the importance of what’s involved: cost. You might think that the expense of using a lawyer would be a reason not to use one. However, immigration filing fees are currently a pretty large percentage of what our office would charge to handle a typical case. When you add in the fees you pay to complete the required medical exam and photographs, the legal fee ends up look pretty reasonable by comparison. NONE of these processing fees and costs are refundable if USCIS denies the case, and it needs to be re-filed (assuming that it is even possible to re-file). Given this analysis, and even ignoring all of the other factors, a legal fee begins to look more like travel insurance.