Let's say that you are a skilled worker, or an employer hoping to hire one. A worker could potentially qualify for multiple visas or types of green cards, but its difficult to know which is best, or fastest. An immigration attorney can help the employer and worker decide which visa best suits the employer's needs and the worker's qualifications.
Similar issues might come up in family-based or other types of visa situations. For instance, an engaged person might have a choice of getting married first, then entering the U.S. on an immigrant visa (with an immediate right to a green card) or getting a K-1 fiancé visa (which allows entry in order to get married and later apply for the green card through a procedure known as adjustment of status.) But which is faster or more advantageous depends on current government fees, procedures, and processing times, all of which a lawyer should be up to speed on.
As a busy business owner, your time is likely not well spent puzzling out the details of immigration law. Let's say, for example, that you're hoping to sponsor a worker for a green card, which requires completing the labor certification (PERM) process. You will be expected to recruit candidates and place advertisements for the job. The advertisement process is complicated, as only certain types of ads are acceptable, the ads must contain specific language, and there are many time frames and deadlines involved. It's easy to get it wrong.
Additionally, the PERM application (ETA Form 9089) is complex. Employers find it difficult to understand how to complete the required Form 9089. There's no room for even the smallest mistake when completing Form 9089. Almost any error will result in a denial; even it it's a one-cent difference in the worker's salary.
Many immigration attorneys are available to assist employers throughout the PERM process and other types of work-visa applications.
If you are or have ever been in immigration court deportation (removal) proceedings, run, don't walk to see a lawyer. If the proceedings are not yet finished or are on appeal, your entire immigration situation is in the power of the courts—and you will not get anywhere trying to use the same application procedures as people who are not in proceedings.
Even if the proceedings are over, you should ask a lawyer whether the outcome affects your current application.
The most common legal issue encountered by would-be immigrants is the claim by USCIS or the consulate that they are inadmissible for one or more of the reasons listed in the article, Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.
Possible examples include having committed a crime or an immigration violation, previously lied to the U.S. government, or having any financial instability that might lead to you being considered a likely public charge. If you know that any of these grounds apply to you, it makes sense to get legal help before you begin the application process. The attorney can help you figure out whether a waiver (legal forgiveness) is available in your situation, and then help prepare the documents and written argument that will convince the U.S. government to grant you that waiver.
Even the simplest of U.S. immigration applications involves filling out forms and gathering documents in order to prove your eligibility, and you will most likely be asked to follow detailed instructions about doing so. Make a mistake, and you could find your application returned, delayed, or even rejected.
Immigration lawyers have dealt with this paperwork countless times before, and have both the knowledge and the streamlined systems to prepare the applications smoothly. They have computer programs in which they can enter your information and spit out the required forms in an instant. Hiring a lawyer can be well worth it for the peace of mind.
Another circumstance that often drives people to lawyers is the failure of USCIS or the consulate to act on or approve the application, for reasons that have more to do with bureaucracy than law. For example, an applicant who moves from Los Angeles to San Francisco after filing the green card application might find that the application, which should be transferred to the San Francisco USCIS office, has instead disappeared into a bureaucratic black hole. Delays at the USCIS Service Centers are also far too common.
Lawyers do not have a lot of power in such circumstances. But at least the lawyer might have access to inside inquiry lines, where they (and only they) can ask about delayed or problematic cases. Even lawyers frequently have trouble getting answers to such inquiries, but it's often worth a try.
Whatever you do, don't rely on advice by USCIS information officers. Seriously. Would you want the receptionist in your doctor's office to tell you whether to get brain surgery? Asking USCIS information officers for advice about your case (beyond basic procedural advice such as where to file an application and what the fees are) is equally unsafe. The people who staff USCIS phone and information services are not experts. USCIS takes no responsibility if their advice is wrong—and won't treat your application with any more sympathy. Even following the advice of officials higher up in the agency may not be safe. Always get a second, preferably lawyer's opinion.