Written by attorney Alena Shautsova


Every non-citizen who comes to the United Sates sooner or later will have to choose whether to fill out and submit the immigration forms on his/her own, or hire an immigration attorney for the process. Some people believe that the forms are self-explanatory and a lawyer will just increase the expenses and complicate the procedure.

The truth is that most of the forms contain relatively short and simple questions, and do come with detailed instructions. However, the correct answers to those questions sometimes are not so evident.

For example, many immigration forms contain a question as to whether an applicant has been arrested, charged and /or convicted or a crime; or whether an applicant committed a crime without being arrested or punished for it. Due to variety of possible dispositions of criminal charges, very often applicants with the dismissed charges would have difficulties answering such questions. At the same time, if an Immigration officer determines the applicant gave an untruthful answer, the application will be denied and the applicant forever barred from applying for future immigration benefits.

Another example can involve application for adjustment of status based on Immigration and Naturalization Act, Section 245(i). An application for adjustment of status is filed using form I-485, and ordinary is filed those who are in the United States either in lawful immigration status or applying based on being an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. However, if a person qualifies for a “grandfathering" exception, the person may apply for adjustment of status even the lawful immigrant status has not been maintained or the person entered the U.S. without inspection or admission. The questions on form I-485 by itself calls for very simple answers, but an inexperienced filer may not be able to choose the correct basis for application and may fail to attach necessary documents that must be submitted while using the exception. These “minor" omissions may cost an applicant permanent residence status.

Additional resources provided by the author

To sum up, if an immigrant chooses to file for the immigration benefits without the help of a professional, it is advisable to (1) familiarize yourself with the general filing requirements and instructions to the forms to be submitted; (2) do some research on relevant laws including Immigration, Family and Criminal laws; (3) obtain samples of the filled out forms; (4) make sure that the form you are using is a recent edition; and (4) track the progress of the application closely to ensure that the government receives all the required documents and explanations on time.

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