The United States has a complex immigration process. It is not easy for the average immigrant to sift through the specialized legal jargon, complex paperwork and numerous forms required to successfully immigrate. Getting help is almost required. Immigration attorneys are the safest choice for help; however, attorneys often come with high fees. As an immigration consultant, you can be a more affordable resource to someone handling his own immigration.
Most states have no rules about calling oneself an immigration consultant. Immigration consultants range from people working for non-profits trying to help immigrants, to those with their own private practice. No specific education or background is required, just a thorough knowledge of the immigration process and paperwork. Note that only a properly qualified attorney or the individual immigrant may legally complete an immigration petition; as a consultant, all you'll be able to do is advise.
States With Oversight
Some states have restrictions on immigration consulting. Arizona, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington have specific statues that regulate the profession. For the most part, they involve some type of business registration and guards against fraud. For example, California requires immigration consultants to complete a disclosure form that informs the public that they are not attorneys or authorized to provide legal advice. It also requires immigration consultants to register with the Secretary of State as a business, purchase a surety bond in case of lawsuit or fraud, provide the state with photo ID, passport photos and comply with a state government background check.
Notary laws address immigration consulting to some degree in Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. In most cases, such as in Colorado, notaries cannot represent themselves as attorneys unless they are, in fact, attorneys--and they cannot engage in immigration advice or consulting.
Some states such as Oklahoma are a little more liberal in allowing notaries and others to provide immigration consulting, but specifiy that they must post signs prominently and in multiple languages that they are not qualified to give legal advice. Notaries wanting to engage in immigration consulting must also register with the state.
For specifics on your state, check with your state Attorney General's office about the laws governing immigration consulting.
Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.