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Be careful who you to go for help with your immigration status. Unfortunately, there are scam artists who pretend to be immigration attorneys or consultants to cheat immigrants out of money—sometimes thousands of dollars. These scam artists not only can take your money, they actually can harm your immigration status by falsely guaranteeing you legal status in the country or threatening you with arrest, fines, or deportation unless you pay money or give them your private personal information.
Only lawyers licensed to practice law in state or federal courts are allowed to give legal advice, like what forms to file with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Lawyers or representatives accredited by the immigration court can represent you in immigration court.
In California, notaries public, paralegals, accredited representatives and immigration consultants are not necessarily lawyers. It is against the law for these non-lawyers to give legal advice. An immigration consultant can only give you non-legal help, like translating your answers to the questions on USCIS forms, getting copies of supporting documents, and, if you ask them to, submitting the forms to the USCIS.
For help on finding a lawyer, check out our Attorneys/Lawyers page.
Read below for information about common immigration scams, a checklist for working with a lawyer or immigration consultant, and how to file complaints:
Some common scams:
- Making false promises or implying special influence with the USCIS. The truth is, nobody can guarantee you a work permit or any other immigration benefit.
- Threatening arrest, fines, or deportation unless you pay money or reveal personal information.
- Posing as an immigration consultant or lawyer when he or she is not qualified to do so.
- Taking your money and not delivering any services
- Persuading you to lie on an application or to an USCIS agent.
- Keeping your original documents and charging money to get them back.
- Filing applications that will not be approved, like filing an application for political asylum if you don’t qualify for asylum.
- Charging you a total price for all services up front, then demanding more and more money to continue doing work.
Checklist for working with a Lawyer or Immigration Consultant
- Is the person offering legal services a lawyer licensed by the State Bar of California? The person must give you his or her State Bar number. Check with the State Bar. Ask if the lawyer has ever been disciplined.
- Immigration consultants must have a $100,000 bond and provide you evidence of the bond. Keep the bond number for your records.
- Check references. Talk to other people who have used the services of the immigration consultant or lawyer; check with reputable community groups. Don't be fooled by fancy titles or documents hanging on the wall.
- Get a written contract signed and dated by the immigration consultant or lawyer, but do not sign the contract unless you understand it.
- Consult a person you trust before signing anything or paying any money. Be suspicious of anyone who wants you to act immediately.
- Make sure the contract lists the services you were promised and how much you must pay.
- The immigration consultant contract must be written in both English and your language.
- You can cancel a contract with an immigration consultant and get a refund at any time. You have the right to a full refund within 72 hours of signing the contract. You must cancel the contract in writing.
- Get a dated receipt showing what you paid for and how much you paid. Make sure the consultant or lawyer signs the receipt.
- Keep a copy of the contract, receipt and forms being filed on your behalf. Take detailed notes and keep for your records.
- Give only copies of original documents to the immigration consultant or lawyer. Keep your originals in a safe place.
- Never sign any immigration document you do not understand. You could be committing a crime if you sign USCIS or other official documents that contain false statements. Ask someone to translate documents for you if you cannot read English.
- An immigration consultant or lawyer should not file any documents with the USCIS if they are too complicated for you to understand or if you do not understand why you are filing the documents.
For Questions and to Report Complaints:
California Department of Justice with additional complaint forms in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese
Office of Immigrant Assistance
State Bar of California
Local District Attorney
Check your local telephone directory under County Government,
or check the California District Attorneys Associations website.
To Verify An Immigration Consultant Has a $100,000 Bond:
California Secretary of State
For A List of Accredited Representatives:
U.S. Department of Justice