Understanding the Difference Immigration Lawyer vs. Consultant

Understanding the Difference Immigration Lawyer vs. Consultant

Aug 11, 2023

Immigration Lawyer vs. Consultant


In today's dynamic global landscape, the significance of immigration services cannot be overstated. As individuals aspire to start a new chapter here in the United States, navigating the complexities of immigration law becomes essential. In this comprehensive article, we will explain the difference between an immigration lawyer and an “immigration consultant”(also known as a “notario,” “paralegal,” or “immigration specialist.”

Immigration Lawyer: Your Legal Advocate

Qualifications and Expertise

An Immigration Lawyer is a legal expert with specialized knowledge in immigration law and regulations. They first must obtain a Bachelor’s Degree, then undergo rigorous legal education, hold a Juris Doctorate (JD) degree, pass the federal and state bar exams, pass the ethics bar exam, and obtain a license to practice law. Their unparalleled legal expertise sets them apart in the realm of immigration service providers.

Comprehensive Legal Representation

When it comes to legal representation, Immigration Lawyers offer comprehensive services. From court appearances to handling complex cases and addressing legal challenges, they are dedicated to safeguarding your interests throughout the immigration process.

Addressing Complexity with Finesse

Immigration Lawyers excel in navigating intricate legal matters, including asylum claims, deportation defense, family-based immigration, and adjustment of status. Their experience and specialized knowledge are indispensable in handling such complexities.

Benefits of Hiring an Immigration Lawyer

By enlisting the services of an Immigration Lawyer, you gain access to expert legal guidance and representation. They are equipped to handle complex cases and provide a robust defense in critical immigration matters, such as employment-based immigration, refugee and asylum cases, and removal proceedings.

Immigration Consultant:

Is this a real profession? Qualifications?

“Immigration Consultant” is a made up term. There are no official licenses and certifications, despite what you will find if you google a term such as, “immigration consultant certification.” Immigration consultants go by many names, including, but not limited to: “visa consultant,” “notario,” “immigration specialist,” and “immigration paralegal.” Do not be fooled. Regardless of what one calls themself, unless the individual has a license to practice law in the United States, you should steer clear!

However, if you choose to use a non-lawyer or “immigration consultant” to help fill out your paperwork, it is a good idea to look for someone who has experience in immigration law, whether he or she worked at an immigration law firm or took a certification class that required many hours of studying and a final exam.

So what can non-lawyers do to help immigrants?

While some states have started passing laws to allow non-lawyers to engage in more services that are considered “legal work,” it is currently not allowed in New York State. As a lawyer licensed in New York, I am not familiar with the exact terms of the relevant laws in other states. In New York, however, I can say with 100% certainty that it is lawful to hire a non-lawyer to help you fill out forms, but that is the extent of how a non-lawyer can assist you without the supervision of a licensed attorney. Even a seemingly simple task, such as informing you as to which form to fill out to get a certain immigration benefit, is considered giving legal advice and is not allowed. The purpose of non-lawyers in this realm is mainly to assist people in filling out forms who may not be fluent in English, have a disability or do not have a high enough education level to do it themselves.

Key Differences between Immigration Lawyers and Consultants

Educational Background and Legal Training

Immigration Lawyers have an extensive legal education, including a Juris Doctor degree, and they must pass the bar exam to practice. In contrast, Consultants do not have any specific legal or immigration training. The knowledge and experience that consultants possess can vary widely and it will be very difficult to validate their credentials. The bottom line is, there is no substitute for a law degree and bar license.

Licensing and Authorization

Immigration Lawyers are authorized to provide legal representation in court and before USCIS, while Consultants lack such authorization. Consultants primarily provide non-legal services, generally by assisting immigration attorneys with administrative tasks to allow the lawyer to spend more time resolving complex legal issues for their clients.

Legal Representation Capabilities

Immigration Lawyers can represent you in court and before USCIS and handle all kinds of cases from simple to complex. Consultants, on the other hand, primarily offer administrative and non-litigious support.

Depth of Knowledge in Immigration Laws

Immigration Lawyers possess specialized knowledge of immigration laws and regulations, making them the ultimate source of legal advice. They stay updated with the latest changes in immigration laws and provide strategic counsel.

Handling Complex Legal Cases

Immigration Lawyers are well-versed in handling complex legal matters, offering valuable legal strategies to navigate potential obstacles. Their expertise is instrumental in pursuing appeals, waivers, and legal remedies.

Professional Accountability and Ethical Standards

As legal practitioners, Immigration Lawyers adhere to strict professional ethics and are regulated by bar associations, ensuring the highest level of accountability. They are subject to professional conduct rules and disciplinary actions.

Immigration consultants do not have a similar standard code of ethics for the profession. Immigration lawyers who employ consultants or paralegals are responsible for the work done by their employees.

Choosing the Right Professional for Your Immigration Needs

Evaluating Individual Immigration Requirements

Consider the specific nature of your immigration needs and whether legal representation is essential. For complex immigration cases, involving potential inadmissibility issues or complex family-based immigration, seeking an Immigration Lawyer is prudent.

Factors to Consider

When choosing an Immigration Lawyer, factors such as experience, reputation, and expertise in handling immigration cases should be considered. For Consultants, experience, recognition of the limits of services they can offer and immigration-specific training should be considered. Consultants should only be considered in rare instances.

Importance of Verifying Credentials

Regardless of your choice, it's essential to verify the credentials and experience of the professional you engage. Check for valid licenses, certifications, and references. Every licensed attorney in the United States must be licensed by a state bar association. You can go to the website of your state’s bar association and type in the attorney’s name to ensure he or she is licensed and not subject to any disciplinary action. There is no similar registry for consultants to check qualifications or certifications.

Seeking Recommendations and Testimonials

Seek recommendations from trusted sources and consider testimonials from previous clients to ensure you make an informed decision. Positive feedback and success stories can indicate the credibility of the chosen professional.

Real-Life Examples

  1. Case Studies: Immigration Lawyer

In the case discussed in the link below, I explain how my client was fooled by multiple “immigration consultants” or paralegals. In fact, she did not even know there was a difference between a paralegal and a lawyer when she first came to us! Fortunately, we were able to fix the mistakes that were made in her case and she is close to getting her green card. Others are not so lucky. Watch the video to find out what happened and how we got her case back on the right track!


In the case discussed in the link below, we were able to get a client’s I-751 petition approved, despite the fact that he filed after the deadline. We successfully argued that the late filing was out of his control. He paid a “friend” (aka a consultant or notario) to assist him in filing the petition. His friend failed to mail the application on time. Since his friend is not a lawyer, he cannot be held liable for a mistake like this. However, as a lawyer, if I were to miss such a deadline, I can be sued for malpractice and disciplined by the state bar association. Missing deadlines is a common problem we find when client’s go to non-lawyers to help with filings.


Outcomes and Implications

Analyze the outcomes of each case study, emphasizing the significance of choosing the right professional for specific immigration needs. Showcasing how appropriate legal representation and advisory services lead to successful immigration outcomes.

Ultimately, deciding to hire an immigration consultant over an immigration lawyer can have severe consequences for your case. While some mistakes, such as failure to submit certain evidence, can be reversed, other mistakes can destroy your ability to EVER gain lawful status in the United States. It is extremely important to do your research and find a reputable and experienced immigration attorney BEFORE you begin your immigration journey.

Conclusion: Making Informed Decisions

In conclusion, Immigration Lawyers and Immigration Consultants are not the same. While immigration consultants may be a viable route in certain simple cases, in general, it is ill-advised to hire a non-lawyer to handle your immigration matters. Remember, even if you have a simple case, the law is very complicated and you do not want to find out after it is too late that your case was handled improperly. The benefits of hiring an Immigration Lawyer are unparalleled and cannot be matched by even the most experienced “immigration consultant.”. Their extensive legal expertise, comprehensive representation, and ability to handle complex cases make them the ideal choice for critical immigration matters. By seeking professional assistance, you can navigate the intricacies of immigration services with confidence, ensuring your dreams of a new life in a different country become a reality.

The experienced attorneys at The Shapiro Law Firm, LLC are known for their ability to explain complex legal matters in simple terms, as well as the extra time and care they take with their clients to ensure full comprehension.

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