Application Assistance Guidelines

What types of application assistance can a program offer without crossing into the “unauthorized practice of law”?

According to USCIS, the unauthorized practice of immigration law occurs when those who are not attorneys or accredited representatives:

  • provide legal assistance to applicants or petitioners in immigration matters
  • charge more than a nominal fee
  • hold themselves out to be qualified in legal matters


Some examples of application assistance that are clearly out of bounds are:

  • telling a student that you are an immigration expert
  • discussing whether or not a student should tell the truth or divulge sensitive information on an application or in an interview—the only advice you can offer is this: you must tell the truth
  • filling out application forms (whether or not you charge a fee for it)
  • giving advice on whether an incident with the police/courts (including arrest, conviction, and/or sentence) is serious enough to impact on an application (the same applies to matters such as tax problems, child support problems, or absences from the US of more than six months)—an immigration expert needs to make this determination
  • handling, processing, or collecting application fees on behalf of a student
  • sending an application on behalf of a student, or requesting that USCIS correspondence be sent to you (instead of to the student directly)


HOWEVER- this does not mean that you must avoid all requests for application assistance!

Some examples of situations that do not amount to “unauthorized practice of law” are:

  • advising students to tell the truth and not withhold any information on an application or in an interview
  • providing up-to-date application forms, telling students where to send their applications, and telling them what should be included with them (i.e. photos, fee, copy of green card)
  • helping students determine the date they are eligible to apply (based on date they became permanent residents) and whether or not they can apply based on marriage to a citizen.
  • helping students to self-screen for “red flag” issues (such as long absences from the US, or criminal convictions)
  • showing students how to enter application information in the correct format (e.g. entering dates in the “dd-mm-yyyy” format and series of dates in the correct order--most recent first)
  • helping students to attach additional information when there is no room to enter it on the citizenship application form
  • helping several members of a family compose a request for interviews/oath ceremonies on the same day
  • helping students request that an interview date be changed due to an emergency
  • explaining or translating the meaning of words/questions on the citizenship application, fee waiver application, form instructions or a notice of action
  • explaining the criteria for fee waiver applications and helping students determine which types of documentation to send with a fee waiver request (based on instructions for form I-912 and the current HHS poverty guidelines)
  • explaining what “reasonable accommodation” means, and helping disabled students prepare requests for accommodation
  • explaining the 20/50, 25/15, and 25/60 age and residency exemptions
  • looking over a completed application to ensure that all sections are complete, legible, and use the correct format (e.g. A # is on each page, dates are in correct format, etc.)
  • showing students how to check their case status on line
  • asking a congressional office to check on a case for a student
  • writing on program letterhead to request “due consideration” based on circumstances you have knowledge of (from working with the student in class)
  • making referrals to local BIA accredited, pro bono, or sliding scale immigration lawyers