Immigration Fraud

Immigration consultant fraud occurs when an individual without authority either as a licensed attorney or as a Board of Immigration Appeals accredited non-lawyer representative, offers to provide services related to procuring an immigration benefit for an individual, family, or business. These individuals call themselves “notarios,” “notario publicos,” “visa consultants,” “immigration consultants,” “licensiados,” and other terms in other languages. They take advantage of undocumented aliens, U.S. business owners, legal permanent residents, and U.S. citizens. They usually charge fees for their services, but are not authorized to give legal advice about immigration law.

An alarming number of immigrants in Virginia fall victim to unauthorized immigration consultants. These unauthorized legal consultants typically charge exorbitant fees for services they never provide. By the time a victim discovers that he or she has been defrauded by a notary, the case is already harmed and it is often too late to repair the damage. As a result of this unauthorized assistance, the immigrant may even lose the opportunity to apply for immigration relief.

What Is Being Done to Keep the Public Safe?

In response to the immigration consultant fraud problem, the bar's former Standing Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law worked to provide immigrants throughout Virginia with the information necessary for selecting an authorized immigration representative and/or lawyer, thereby decreasing the number of immigrants who fall victim to this type of unauthorized practice of law.

The committee reviewed a program launched by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that is aimed at helping immigrants victimized by unauthorized immigration representatives. Following a similar format, the committee’s education campaign is aimed at educating Hispanic and Asian immigrants about the dangers of dealing with unauthorized immigration representatives. The program provides information to immigrants on how to contact the Department of Justice to verify a person or organization’s credentials in providing immigration services, and explains general precautions in dealing with immigration legal services providers.

The Program’s Purpose

The committee directed program resources at Virginia’s Hispanic, Korean, and Vietnamese populations, as these are three of the most commonly defrauded communities in which the committee sees the greatest number of victims of unauthorized practice.

The hope is that this program will provide immigrants in Virginia, many of whom are Legal Permanent Residents, the necessary information to distinguish an authorized immigration representative and someone who is not authorized to provide such services and between a lawyer and a non-lawyer who is holding out as licensed to practice law. The result of making an uninformed decision can be devastating and far reaching, affecting families in this country and in the victim’s native country.

The following brochures, palm cards, and posters are available online and from the Virginia State Bar. These materials are also available in Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese. The materials are in downloadable, print-quality pdf files designed in grayscale and for common-sized paper to accommodate your printer and budget. Only the Palm Card—an informative card that folds in half to the size of a business card—requires trimming. All files are smaller than 1MB. You are welcome to print and distribute these materials.

Immigration Fraud Brochure, English (8.5" X 11" tri-fold pdf)
Immigration Fraud Brochure, Korean (8.5" X 11" tri-fold pdf)
Immigration Fraud Brochure, Spanish (8.5" X 11" tri-fold pdf)
Immigration Fraud Brochure, Vietnamese (8.5" X 11" tri-fold pdf)

Immigration Fraud Poster, English (11" X 17" pdf)
Immigration Fraud Poster, Korean (11" X 17" pdf)
Immigration Fraud Poster, Spanish (11" X 17" pdf)
Immigration Fraud Poster, Vietnamese (11" X 17" pdf)

Palm Cards
Immigration Fraud Palm Card, English (3.5" X 4" bi-fold pdf)
Immigration Fraud Palm Card, Korean (3.5" X 4" bi-fold pdf)
Immigration Fraud Palm Card, Spanish (3.5" X 4" bi-fold pdf)
Immigration Fraud Palm Card, Vietnamese (3.5" X 4" bi-fold pdf)

What Can I Do to Protect Myself?

Hire only a licensed attorney or a BIA-accredited representative to give you immigration advice or represent you before any immigration agency.

An accredited representative is a non-lawyer authorized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to provide immigration services on behalf of a non-profit, religious, charitable, or social service organization. A BIA-accredited representative’s credentials can be confirmed at the U.S. Department of Justice's website, or ask to see the accreditation certificate.

A licensed attorney is authorized by a state bar to practice law but must follow the state bar’s rules. A licensed attorney should display his bar license. See the bar's Virginia Lawyer Referral Service.

Ask in your community for references to an accredited representative or licensed attorney who has a good reputation for helping people with immigration. Also, take the following precautions:

  • Ask how much it will cost for a consultation.
  • Verify an attorney’s or accredited representative’s eligibility to represent you.  
  • Ask what the process is, how long it will take, and what the risks are.
  • Ask how you pay. Is it a one-time flat fee? Can you set up a payment plan? Does the attorney or accredited representative charge by the hour?
  • Require a written contract of representation and review it carefully. The type of representation and payment terms should be clearly spelled out in a written contract. Take time to read and understand the terms of the contract. You should not feel rushed into the representation.
  • Get a receipt when you make a payment.
  • Receive copies of all documents prepared or submitted for you.
  • Report any representative’s unlawful activity to the Virginia State Bar to the contact information below.
  • Do not sign papers that are blank or that have not been filled out.
  • Do not sign documents that you do not understand.
  • Do not sign documents that contain false statements or inaccurate information.

How Do I Report Immigration Consultant Fraud?

To report unlawful activity that may be the unauthorized practice of law, contact the Virginia State Bar to request an Unauthorized Practice of Law complaint form:

Ethics Department
Virginia State Bar
1111 East Main Street, Suite 700
Richmond, Virginia 23219-3565
(804) 775-0557

You can also download a complaint form (pdf).

You may also consider:

  1. Filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. 1-877-FTC-HELP
  2. If you are a victim of notario fraud, you may have a right to recover damages, treble damages, and/or attorneys’ fees under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, Va. Code 59.1-196. You may wish to consult a lawyer about your rights. If you need a referral to a lawyer, you can contact Virginia Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-552-7977.
  3. If you are a victim interested in bringing a private action and need a pro bono referral or if you are a lawyer interested in representing a victim on a pro bono basis, the American Bar Association has set up a pro bono referral network.


DISCLAIMER: The above information is neither legal advice nor legal representation. It is provided as a public service by the Virginia State Bar to inform consumers. If you need legal advice, you should consult a licensed immigration attorney or a BIA accredited representative.

For information regarding the American Bar Association’s notary initiative, please visit their website.