I’m going to begin this post by saying (as I probably too often do), that I’m not a lawyer. Everyone in the U.S. is afraid of being sued, and I’m no exception! So none of this is legal advice. But ever since I went through the immigration process with my wife (who is from Spain), I discovered that there are quite a few things related to immigration that the average person can do on his or her own. My wife and I worked through both the J-1 visa (when we were dating) and the K-3 visa (when we were married) and never used an immigration lawyer.
It’s been my experience that immigration attorneys know all about the rules concerning visas, what you might be eligible for and how to give you the best chance of having your application accepted. But they don’t provide much advice on how to find a company willing to sponsor your visa in the first place. Finding that sponsoring company is an international student job seeker’s true challenge (and the subject of my book)- not really the details of the visa application, etc. Having said that, here are some instances when you might think of using an attorney.
When using an immigration lawyer makes sense
To educate yourself. I’ve said it in my book, and I say it in every presentation I give: students need to know the H1B visa process backwards and forwards. Generally, your international student office can provide you all the information you need. But if they can’t, you might want to set up a time with an immigration lawyer to get all the details. Don’t assume that the company who hires you will know how the work authorization process works. They often don’t.
On behalf of your employer. If you get a job offer from a company that doesn’t know H1B from FBI, you might want to facilitate their relationship with an attorney who can guide them through how to hire you. With an attorney’s help, the processing is generally straightforward.
When you’re in a rush. Lawyers know legal documents better than you know your native language. They also tend to know what the government responds to speedily, and what gets bogged down in the swamp. If you need something done right the first time and quickly, an immigration lawyer can be a good first option.
When you’ve got special circumstances. If there’s something about your immigration status that doesn’t fit the typical international student template, you probably ought to speak with an attorney about how your special circumstances might need to be handled.
Talk to other former international students and ask them at what point lawyers came into the picture. You’ll likely hear from most of them that their employer took care of that. Most medium to large companies will have relationships with attorneys that will manage the visa process for them and you. If not, you may need to do some digging to find one for them. And if you do, here’s an immmigration lawyer that I recommend. Good luck!