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Why Is It a Bad Idea To Hire an Immigration 'Notario'?

If you are planning to move to the United States, or change your immigration status, it is important to know who to turn to for legal help. There may be a big difference between who can provide legal services in another country and who can prepare legal documents in the U.S.

Getting advice from an immigration notario here in the U.S. may be a bad idea. In the U.S., a notary has limited abilities. A notary may only be able to help you sign documents, but they cannot provide any legal advice. The only individuals in the U.S. licensed and qualified to offer legal representation are licensed attorneys.

Notaries in the U.S. often refer to themselves as “immigration consultants.” Other deceptive terms include:

  • Non-legal immigration services
  • Immigration forms specialists
  • Immigration assistance providers
  • Immigration form preparation
  • Immigration service provider

Notarios and immigration consultants may make false promises and provide false information about the services they can provide. Generally, a notary or notary public does not have the qualifications to give you legal advice on U.S. immigration law. In some cases, a notary can cause permanent damage to your case and your immigration options.

What Is a Notary?

In many Hispanic countries, the term notario is for people who must be lawyers. However, in the United States, you do not have to be a lawyer to be a notary. A notary is simply someone who has the authority to act as a witness in signing documents and similar notary services. To become a notary, you may only have to take a three- to six-hour class and pay a fee. Some states don’t even require notary training.

Why Is It a Bad Idea To Hire a Notary?

Some notaries in the United States take advantage of the difference between a notary and a lawyer to make immigrants believe that they can practice law. They may try to represent you in your immigration matters. As these people tend to charge less than an attorney, many people are tempted to hire their services. However, there are major problems with relying on the advice of someone who is not trained or licensed to provide immigration legal advice.

If the notary or immigration consultant does not have sufficient knowledge of U.S. immigration law or the practice of law in your state, they can file documents incorrectly and permanently damage your case. Even if they intend to help you, they can do the wrong thing by accident.

There have also been cases where notaries accept the client’s money and do nothing for their case. In the end, trying to save money may be more expensive if an attorney has to fix problems. Some clients only find out their notary deceived them when they get taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

There are important deadlines in immigration cases. Filing an application or a form even one day too late can mean a loss of your opportunities for legal status. Failing to properly fill out an immigration form or provide the necessary filing fees or supporting documents can also cause your claim to be rejected.

Who Can Help You in Your Immigration Case?

While the law allows people to handle their immigration cases themselves, immigration law can be complicated. There is also a lot at stake in an immigration case, including legal status, work authorization, and citizenship. When dealing with important legal immigration matters, you should seek legal assistance. There are two categories of legal professionals who can help you with your immigration case:

  • Lawyers: To verify that someone is a lawyer, you can visit your state bar association website and see if that person is licensed to practice law.
  • Accredited representatives of organizations recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA): The Department of Justice maintains a list of these representatives and organizations.

How Do I Avoid Immigration Scams?

Once you have a licensed attorney or accredited representative to help you with your immigration case, follow these tips from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to avoid immigration scams:

  • Be wary of people who “guarantee” you a specific result, such as a guaranteed visa or green card.
  • Understand that the USCIS does not charge for downloading forms.
  • Before signing any document, make sure you understand what you are signing and that all the information is accurate.
  • Never sign blank forms.
  • Verify that the processing fee you must pay corresponds to the form filing fees published by USCIS.
  • Request a receipt for any payments made to your attorney or representative.
  • Keep copies of all forms and documents submitted to USCIS for your own records.
  • Keep your birth certificates, original documents, and official documents from your home country.
  • Save all receipts and correspondence from USCIS and the U.S. federal government.

Many immigration populations rely on references from friends or others in the community. However, just because someone else had success with a notario or the notario is from your community does not guarantee competent service. If you have a problem with a notary or notario, you may be on your own and have little recourse to correct the problems.

Additional Resources

If you have questions about your immigration status, you should consult with an experienced immigration attorney. If you’ve been the victim of immigration fraud, you can find information from the American Bar Association’s resources for notary fraud victims.

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