Is a Lawyer Required to Get a Green Card?
Updated: Mar 4
If you’re trying to get a green card, you may ask: Do I need a lawyer for a green card interview? Do I need a lawyer for a green card through marriage? Do I need a lawyer to renew my green card?
The short answer is: No law says that you need a lawyer, at any stage of the proceeding, in order to get a green card. Many people obtain green cards without lawyers.
But immigration law is very complicated, and you may find the system difficult to navigate without a lawyer. Also, if you have difficulty with the English language, you may need a lawyer to help you understand the documents you need to read and fill out. (For a brief explanation of the process of obtaining a green card, see my earlier blog post, “Steps to Get a U.S. Green Card.”)
Any attorney, who is licensed to practice in any state, may represent you in immigration matters. Because immigration law is federal law, the attorney doesn’t even have to be licensed in the state in which he practices. I know of several attorneys who are not licensed to practice in the state where they work, but who handle immigration cases.
Essentially, there are three ways you may obtain a green card:
1. You may handle the case yourself.
2. You may retain an attorney to represent you.
3. You may use someone other than an attorney to represent you.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) permits the following persons, who are not attorneys, to represent non-citizens in immigration proceedings:
· Law students
· Law school graduates who have not passed the bar
· Reputable individuals
· Accredited representatives
· Accredited officials of foreign governments
· Attorneys licensed in countries outside of the United States
None of these persons may do everything that an attorney may do. There are restrictions on what each of these persons may do. Only an attorney licensed to practice in a U.S. state, territory, or the District of Columbia, may provide the full range of immigration law services. To see the federal law on who may represent you in immigration proceedings, click here.
Below, here is an explanation of who may represent you in immigration proceedings, and what each type of person may do:
Law Students. A law student may represent you in an immigration proceeding, if the law student is working under the supervision of a law professor, licensed attorney, or accredited representative, in a legal aid program conducted by a law school or non-profit organization. The law student may not charge for representation.
A very successful immigration legal aid program in the Northeast Oklahoma region is the Immigrant Rights Project (IRP) at the University of Tulsa Law School. When I was a law student, I worked at the IRP, representing non-citizen clients before USCIS. The faculty there, who supervise law students, are very knowledgeable about immigration law – they are more knowledgeable than many practicing attorneys. An advantage of the IRP is that generally, each student only handles one case per semester, so that, the students working in the IRP have much more time to devote to a client than a practicing attorney does. (Most practicing attorneys have dozens, or even hundreds, of cases going on at once.) Because the students at IRP have more time to devote to your case, and because the students work under the supervision of immigration law faculty who are experts at immigration law, the IRP is often better able to represent clients than most practicing attorneys are. The IRP is also completely free. They only take a limited number of cases, though, and they turn down many more requests than they accept. So, the IRP may not be able to take your case. But, if you need immigration help, it’s worth it to give the IRP a call.
Law school graduates who have not passed the bar exam.
A law school graduate, who has not passed the bar exam, may represent you before the USCIS if the law school graduate is working under the supervision of a licensed attorney or accredited representative. The law school graduate may not charge for representation.
Any “reputable individual of good moral character” may represent you before USCIS, if:
· The reputable individual represents you before USCIS on an “individual basis” and does not regularly appear before USCIS and does not hold himself out to the public as qualified to represent people before USCIS.
· The reputable individual files a written declaration that you are not paying him.
· The reputable individual has a pre-existing relationship with you; for example, as a relative, neighbor, clergyman, business associate, or friend. USCIS may waive this requirement if you can’t find representation any other way.
A non-profit religious, charitable, or social service organization, may seek recognition to practice before the USCIS. A recognized organization must designate an “accredited representative” to represent clients before the USCIS. The accredited representative must be certified by the Department of Justice. The organization and the representative may charge only a “nominal” amount to represent clients.
If you’re looking for a low-cost alternative to having a lawyer represent you, an accredited representative may be able to help you. An accredited representative may not do everything that a lawyer may do. Some representatives are accredited only to practice before the Department of Homeland Security (of which USCIS is a part.) Other representatives are accredited to practice before the Department of Homeland Security, and also before the Board of Immigration Appeals and Immigration judges.
For a nationwide directory of recognized organizations and accredited representatives, click here. As of July 2021, there are accredited representatives in all fifty states, so, hopefully, you can find one in your area.
Accredited officials of foreign governments.
An official of the government of your home country may also represent you.
Attorneys licensed in countries outside the U.S.
An attorney licensed in a country other than the U.S. may represent you in matters before USCIS, as long as the attorney represents persons only in matters outside the geographical confines of the United States.
Do you need an attorney? Choose for yourself.
As the old saying goes, “The customer is always right.” You are the best judge in deciding whether you need an attorney to represent you. Some of the alternatives to attorney representation, that I’ve listed above, may be good for you; others may not be. If you still feel that you need an attorney, contact the Persaud Law Office.