TIPS FOR SELF REPRESENTATION
Following up on my previous post, I thought I'd provide some free advice for those who are planning on tackling the immigration process themselves:
1. Never pay for any immigration forms
All immigration forms come with instructions and are easily downloaded, typed into, then printed and submitted. Visit www.uscis.gov to find the forms you need. You will want to save the form to your computer BEFORE you begin filling it out. Don't forget to save the document again after you've filled it out. Then print for submission. (Yes, you can also fill the forms out by hand, too.)
2. Never send originals
Aside from the actual signed immigration forms (i.e., I-130, I-485...) and sealed medical exams, never send your original documents! Aside from the very real possibility that the document gets lost, there is the additional possibility that it will get scanned, marked, and hole punched. It may very difficult to request originals back. I had a client who submitted her passport to immigration. It took her nearly two years for her to get it back.
3. Double check the filing fee and filing address
Filing fees and filing addresses may change frequently! Do yourself the favor of reviewing the fees to make sure you have included the proper amount and you have correctly addressed the payment. If you are sending a money order, don't forget to sign it!
Usually there are TWO filing addresses for each application packet. Make sure that you use the correct address based on your method of mailing. If you are planning on heading to the post office (and do not plan to send your application via Express mail) you use one address. If you are sending via courier service (UPS or FedEx) you would use another address.
4. Schedule a consultation with an experienced immigration attorney
A consultation is when the attorney talks to you about your specific situation, whether you are eligible for a benefit, how you can apply for a benefit, and how long the process is expected to take. This is when you should ask all the specific questions that confused you during steps 1-3.
Depending on the attorney, they may also be willing to review the forms you've already put together. I won't check over your forms to see if you spelled your own name and address correctly, but I will look over your forms to see if you are completely missing a section or an important form.
5. Make a Copy
Always remember to make a copy of EVERY document you submit before you mail your application. This will help you to remember exactly what you submitted and prepare for your interview. If you have a need to consult with an attorney later, you will not lose valuable time trying to request a copy of the documents from Immigration. (FOIAs are currently taking approximately 5 months to process!) Also, if Immigration sends you a request for something you've already sent in, (Yes, this happens with some level of frequency.) you will not have to scramble to obtain a duplicate copy.
5. Don't Fret
If you forget to include something, Immigration will almost always send you a Request for Evidence telling you exactly what you failed to include and how to include it. If you want to speak to a live Immigration Officer, you can schedule an INFOPASS appointment at your local U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) office.
6. Be Prepared to Wait
A look at case processing times will give you an idea of when you should expect an answer on your case. Know that these times vary from office to office and case to case. If you have a complicated case, it may take longer to review your case. Be consistent in checking the progress of your case online, but also remember to be patient.