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Immigration Reforms Spark New Scammer Alert

There's been a lot of talk lately about US immigration reform. With politicians, the media, and popular opinion all chiming in on the topic, some people are understandably confused: what changes will be made? When will they be made? And are some of them in effect already?

A few simple answers will protect you and your families from unscrupulous individuals who are only too keen to take advantage of a confusing situation. Already, reports have emerged that would-be immigrants to the United States have been scammed or have been solicited for schemes which are run by fraudsters. Claiming to be US immigration attorneys, these so-called "notarios" (Spanish for notary) promise intending immigrants green cards under a "new amnesty programme" or under the "comprehensive immigration law reforms", pockets large sums of money, and then disappear, often leaving their clients in a precarious financial and legal position. There is no amnesty programme, and no comprehensive immigration reform has occurred at this point in time.

So what has actually happened with US immigration law?

Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Although there has been a lot of talk on this subject, what we have heard about thus far have been mere proposals for reform. While it is very likely that immigration laws will be reformed, it is unclear what changes will be implemented and when they will come into effect. If you receive a solicitation to pay 'a deposit' now for a US immigration law which is not now in effect, and which may or may not come into effect at a later time, that is scam. Please ensure that your family and friends do not fall prey to these costly fraudulent schemes.

Provisional (Stateside) Waivers: Contrary to what scammers would have you believe, this is not an amnesty or a 'legalisation' programme. Instead, it allows a small category of beneficiaries (currently limited to "immediate relatives" of US citizens, which includes spouses, children under 21, and parents if the petitioner is at least 21) who are presently in the USA and have accumulated unlawful presence there to obtain a waiver of unlawful presence in the US before travelling abroad for consular processing. This should significantly decrease the time that a beneficiary is separated from his or her US citizen relative as waivers of unlawful presence otherwise can take a long time to adjudicate at consulates outside the USA. Please bear in mind, however, that this programme only applies to immediate relatives of US citizens. Additional information is available here.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): DACA allows individuals who meet a number of requirements, including having arrived in the United States before age 16 and still residing in the USA, to apply for a work permit despite not currently being in lawful status. Additional information is available here.

Immigration law can often be confusing. If you think you qualify for a particular programme or US visa, it is important to seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer. The field of US immigration has unfortunately been historically plagued with unscrupulous individuals looking to separate you from your money by taking advantage of hopeful immigrants' lack of knowledge about US immigration law. In times like these when confusion is heightened, scammers are sadly likely to be emboldened into taking advantage of an ever-increasing number of hopeful customers.

Here are a few tips to protect yourself and your loved ones when choosing a US immigration lawyer:

  • Check that the lawyer is a member of a US State Bar. This is a requirement lawyers must meet before being allowed to practice US immigration law.
  • Check whether the lawyer is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. AILA is a national organisation of more than 11,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. Although not required for the practice of US immigration law, AILA members have access to a wealth of immigration-related resources, conferences, and the latest US immigration developments.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it may well be. Although we all hope that our dreams and aspirations can be realised, some unscrupulous individuals will tell you exactly what you want to hear in their attempts to part you from your money. If it sounds too good or it just doesn't feel right, getting a second legal opinion may be very wise.

I would like to wish you the best of luck with your immigration endeavour. As the immigration debate heats up further in the months to come, please share some words of wisdom with family and friends, and help them avoid becoming the scammers' next US immigration prey.