Below please find answers to clients’ frequently asked questions (FAQs) about representation by our law firm.
- YOUR CASE PLAN
- COMMUNICATING WITH OUR LAW FIRM AND THE GOVERNMENT
- 5. Are my communications with the firm confidential?
- 6. How quickly will the firm respond to my calls and other communications?
- 7. Why is it important to tell the truth to our law firm and the government?
- 8. Why shouldn’t I contact the government directly about my case?
- 9. Should I notify the firm if my address or other key details change?
- 10. I’m a busy executive. Can the firm work with my executive assistant?
- 11. How should I provide feedback to the firm about the quality of services I’ve received?
- USING THE CLIENT PORTAL
- SUBMITTING DOCUMENTS TO OUR FIRM
- GOVERNMENT SEARCHES OF YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA, LUGGAGE, AND ELECTRONIC DEVICES
- CLIENT REFERRALS
YOUR CASE PLAN
1. What is the case plan? What if it needs to be changed?
For each case, our firm will draft a plan. The case plan will take into account:
- Your specific goals
- Your immigration history to the extent it may impact your eligibility for new immigration benefits
- Other eligibility factors.
The case plan is a roadmap for the case, covering topics such as:
- Case schedule showing each step in the case and who is responsible
- List of documents needed from you and instructions for gathering them
- An explanation of the requirements and procedures for the case
- Strategies for each key issue in your case
- Plan for translation of any documents
- Budget for expenses (for example, government filing fees)
We will share the plan with you and fine tune it through discussion with you. President Eisenhower famously said something like, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Planning is “everything” because it’s intended to bring clarity and allows us to work together towards your stated goals. But plans are “nothing” because we need to be flexible enough to change them to accommodate changes in the facts, the law, or your goals. Please feel free to discuss proposed changes with us.
2. What is the scope of the law firm’s work?
Our representation agreement with you will specify the scope of work to be done by the law firm. Typically, this will include all legal work reasonably required to help you achieve the U.S. immigration or nationality benefit you are seeking, such as:
- Factual research to understand clients’ goals and facts relevant to eligibility for immigration or nationality benefits. This may include, for example, interviewing clients, reviewing questionnaires completed by clients, reviewing clients’ immigration history (passports, prior immigration applications, prior communications between clients and immigration authorities), and reviewing other documents relevant to eligibility.
- Legal research regarding requirements and procedures to apply for immigration and nationality benefits, the scope of those benefits, and compliance with the terms of those benefits.
- Analyze how the law applies to the facts of clients’ case in order identify key issues and strategies for dealing with those issues.
- Prepare a case plan (as described above)
- Provide instructions to clients on documents to collect; review client documents
- Prepare of forms, supporting letters, affidavits, and legal briefs, as needed
- File documents with the government
- Schedule biometrics appointment(s) and interview(s) with the government, as needed
- Prepare clients and witnesses for interviews with the government
- Represent clients at government interviews, if permitted by government procedures
- Inquiries with the government related to the status of pending matters in order to advocate for timely and positive decisions
- Frequent communications with clients to explain and adjust the case plan, provide advice, provide case status updates, and answer client questions
3. What are the roles of the lawyer, case manager, and administrator in my case?
The lawyer has overall responsibility for the case. This includes:
- working with the clients to make the case plan, carry it out, and adjust it when needed
- providing legal advice to clients
- making sure that all documents filed with the government are as persuasive as possible
- representing clients in government hearings, where allowed by law
- preparing clients and witnesses to testify at hearings
- supervising other law firm staff
The case manager is responsible for working under the lawyer’s supervision and according to the case plan. This includes:
- initial review of client questionnaires and documents
- drafting application forms, declarations, and similar materials
- answering questions about application procedures and the case schedule
- arranging client meetings
The administrator is responsible for:
- providing technical assistance with the client portal
- answering billing questions
4. Can the firm guarantee my case will be approved?
We guarantee that we will advocate zealously on your behalf.
Still, no law firm can guarantee that you will receive a visa or other immigration benefit. Government immigration agencies have the sole power to make such decisions. Nor can any law firm guarantee when the government will decide your case. The government has the power to investigate cases without specific time limits. But the case plan includes a schedule showing the firm’s best timing estimates based on our experience and knowledge of the facts of your case.
We recommend that no client purchase nonrefundable air tickets, make nonrefundable hotel reservations, quit a job, sell real estate, or make any other irrevocable commitments before actually receiving the visa or other immigration benefit.
COMMUNICATING WITH OUR LAW FIRM AND THE GOVERNMENT
5. Are my communications with the firm confidential?
Our law firm has a legal responsibility to preserve the confidentiality of each client’s communications. Confidentiality applies when an actual or potential client communicates with a lawyer orally or in writing, intending the communication to be private, and seeking legal advice. We will not disclose your confidences to the government or anyone else without your permission.
Similarly, under U.S. law, client confidences are “privileged.” This is a rule of evidence. A lawyer may not testify in court regarding client confidences nor may confidential communications be introduced in court without the client’s consent.
There are a few very narrow exceptions to the rules regarding confidentiality and privilege. See for example California Rule of Professional Conduct 3-100. Because these exceptions are so narrow, we have never had to disclose a client’s confidences.
The traditional justification for confidentiality and privilege are that the legal system operates more fairly when people are able to speak candidly with lawyers,
6. How quickly will the firm respond to my calls and other communications?
Our policy is to communicate clearly, concisely, and on a timely basis. To be responsive to clients. If we can’t take your call immediately, you can expect that a telephone message left in the morning will be returned by the end of the business day, or one left in the afternoon will be returned by the following business morning. The same is true for other types of communication. You can also make an appointment to discuss your case face-to-face or over the phone, Skype, FaceTime, or WeChat call.
7. Why is it important to tell the truth to our law firm and the government?
In order for our law firm to be able to give accurate advice to help you reach your goals, we need to know the true facts. This means both the good and the bad. In our years of practicing law, we’ve heard nearly everything. We won’t be surprised, or shocked, or think less of you. But if you give our firm inaccurate information, we will be unable to represent you well, and you’ll have to live with the outcome. So tell us the truth. We will respect your courage and do a better job on your case. The same goes doubly true for what you tell the government. It is a crime to willfully misrepresent relevant facts of your case to the government. It is also a ground of inadmissibility (i.e., a reason to prohibit you permanently from being granted immigration benefits) and a ground of deportability.
8. Why shouldn’t I contact the government directly about my case?
From time to time, our firm may need to inquire with the government about your case, such as asking about the case status. It’s important that you not make inquiries on your own without consulting our firm in advance. In the past, a few clients have inadvertently told the agency information that hurt their cases. Also, some government officials who receive multiple inquiries from both a law firm and clients may be annoyed and be unwilling to cooperate. So we ask that you not contact government agencies regarding your case without specifically discussing it first with our firm.
9. Should I notify the firm if my address or other key details change?
Clients should keep our firm update our firm about changes, such as:
- Address; telephone; email
- Marital status
- Arrest or criminal charges
- Other key facts
As to address changes, foreign nationals may be required to register their address with immigration officials and to notify the government of address changes in order continue to receive notices regarding pending cases. We can help with that.
10. I’m a busy executive. Can the firm work with my executive assistant?
Some of our clients are busy executives. We know that your assistant is a key member of your team. And we are happy to collaborate with your assistant on this case, if you request. Please note:
- You should personally review written materials before they are provided to the government. The government will hold you personally responsible for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided in such materials. Failure to provide accurate and complete information is a basis for refusal of a visa or other immigration benefit. The worst case scenario is that you may be permanently barred from receiving immigration benefits if the materials include fraudulent statements or willful misrepresentations.
- Our firm will rely on information communicated by your assistant to make strategy decisions and understand your preferences, such as where and when the interview should be scheduled and what your travel itinerary will include. We will also provide your assistant with advice about your case. Make sure to communicate with your assistant about these issues.
- The application for a visa or other immigration benefit may include confidential information, such as your wages, family information, any arrest history, and sensitive ID numbers. Since we cannot anticipate in advance which information if any you may wish to keep confidential, we will presume that if you have asked us to work with your assistant then we can share with your assistant any information about your case. Of course, if there is specific information you want us to keep confidential, we will do so. Please specifically notify us in writing.
11. How should I provide feedback to the firm about the quality of services I’ve received?
Our firm welcomes feedback from clients about the quality of services we have provided. The easiest way to provide feedback is to take a moment to complete our feedback form. In the alternative, feel free to contact your case manager or Gary Chodorow at any time with comments, criticism, or compliments. Your feedback helps us to continuously improve our services.
USING THE CLIENT PORTAL
12. How can I view my Case Plan?
Once our firm has prepared your Case Plan, you can view it by clicking on the link in your Client Portal’s left menu:
Your Case Plan’s left menu will look something like this. Click on the page you wish to view.
For example, the Case Schedule page will show the schedule for your case, including who is responsible for upcoming steps:
The Documents List pages will show the documents due next from you in yellow:
You can download a document from the Documents List by right clicking on its icon and selecting “download.”
13. How can I upload documents to the Client Portal?
Click on “Upload Documents” in the Client Portal’s left menu.
Then either click “upload” or drag files here to upload. Use the “description” column to provide any additional information to our firm about the document.
Unless we otherwise request, we prefer that documents be uploaded in PDF format. For each document, such as a passport or a bank statement, please combine all pages into a single PDF. See Submitting documents to our firm.
When our staff reviews your document, we will move it from the “Upload Documents” page to your “Documents List” and show the status, such as that it’s ready to file with the government.
14. How can I fill my Client Questionnaire?
If our firm needs to collect data from you for immigration forms, we will ask you to fill a Client Questionnaire. To access it, click on “Client Questionnaires” in the client portal’s left menu.
Click on the questionnaire with your name:
Click “Edit Workbook” and then choose an option:
- Edit in Excel: This requires you to have Excel software installed on your device. Save your changes when you are done.
- Edit in Browser: This doesn’t require you to have Excel software installed on your device. Changes are saved automatically as you edit.
Notify your case manager when you’ve completed the questionnaire.
15. How can the firm and I send secure messages to each other?
You and the firm can send and receive secure messages to each other in the client portal. Click on “Discussion Board” in the left menu.
16. How can I change the client portal’s display language?
Do you want to change your Client Portal’s display language from English to Chinese, or vice-versa?
If you are using a Microsoft account to sign into the Client Portal, then you’ll need to change your device’s display language. For a Windows 10 PC, click Start, then type “Region and Language”:
If you are using a work or school account:
|Step 1. Sign in at http://portal.office.com/account|
|Step 2. Click “Edit Settings”|
|Step 3. Click “Language and time zone”|
|Step 4. Select your preferred language|
|Step 5. Click “Save”|
SUBMITTING DOCUMENTS TO OUR FIRM
17. What’s the best way to format documents provided to the firm?
- PDF: This is our preferred format for most documents (e.g., passports, marriage and birth certificates, etc.). For each document, please arrange all pages in order in a single PDF.
- Microsoft Word (DOCX): For declarations and other text documents that you draft and send to us for editing.
18. How can I manage documents in PDF format?
Portable document format (PDF) is a file format used to present and exchange documents reliably, independent of software, hardware, or operating system. PDF is widely used in the legal industry. Invented by Adobe, PDF is now an open standard maintained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Common tasks for managing PDFs include, for example:
- Creating PDFs from scanned paper documents, or from other digital formats, such as images, web pages, or word processing files.
- Editing PDFs, such as editing text or images, rearranging page order, or merging or splitting documents.
- Annotating PDFs, such as adding highlighting or comment bubbles
- Signing a PDF using one’s finger or a stylus on a touch screen.
No-Tech Solution: Bring your paper documents to a local copy shop. They can scan and save documents to PDF format for you.
Paid Software Suites: These software suites have broad capabilities for creating, editing, annotating, and signing PDFs. The software is not cheap, but free trials are available:
- Adobe Acrobat DC (Mac or Windows): Purchase starting at USD 239, or subscribe starting at USD 12.99/month.
- Nuance Power PDF (Mac or Windows): Starts at USD 129.
- Adobe Acrobat DC Reader (Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android): This is the free version of Adobe Acrobat DC. It is primarily for viewing PDFs. You can also annotate and sign PDFs.
- Adobe Scan and Genius Scan (iOS, Android) are a couple of the numerous free apps that will allow you create a PDF by scanning a paper document.
- Preview is the default PDF viewer on MacOS. It includes a number of features for creating, editing, annotating, and signing PDFs.
- Windows 10 includes a print to pdf feature that should be able to create a PDF version of any document format you can open in Windows.
- PDFsam Basic and PDF Shaper Free are Windows freeware for merging and splitting PDF files.
- Sign a PDF easily with your finger or a stylus on your mobile phone or other touch screen (Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android). Note: This is not acceptable for USCIS forms.
19. How long will the firm need to review my documents?
We will review your documents on a rolling basis, so you can provide them in batches rather than waiting until you have all documents. When you have provided all documents we’ve requested, tell us, “my documents are complete.” We’ll reply to let you know how long it will take us to review them. Even if we need to review dozens of documents, we’ll do so in a week or less.
GOVERNMENT SEARCHES OF YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA, LUGGAGE, AND ELECTRONIC DEVICES
Immigration investigators do sometimes monitor Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites, including foreign language sites, to detect fraud and other ineligibilities in applications and petitions. A government memo describes how an officer can ask to become a “friend” of a social media user, thus gaining access to otherwise restricted content. The memo emphasizes that some users “accept cyber-friends they don’t even know.” See USCIS, Social Networking Sites and Their Importance to Fraud Detection and National Security (released under a Freedom of Information Act request July 20, 2010). Here are examples of how social media may be used by the government against you:
- In spousal immigration cases, the government may check social media “to see if petitioners and beneficiaries are in a valid relationship or are attempting to deceive USCIS about their relationship.”
- For employment-based immigration cases, the government may check to see if employees are working in accordance with the terms of their visa. Imagine if Henry, an H-1B visa holder, is directly employed by Company A but assigned to work on a project for Company A’s client, Company B. Henry posts on LinkedIn that he is working at Company B, even though he is supervised and paid by Company A. This could trigger a fraud investigation, as this information appears to contradict the terms of the H-1B. See Maxine D. Bailey, Immigration is Watching, California Lawyer (Dec. 2011).
- For nonimmigrants not authorized to work, the government may search for signs of unauthorized employment.
- For cases where work experience needs to be proved, the government may look for contradictory information.
- For any case, the government may look for any evidence of illegal behavior. For example, a pair of tourists were detained and removed from the U.S. after posting on Twitter they planned to “destroy America,” which apparently the investigator didn’t recognize as British slang meaning they intended to “party hard” during their visit. See Richard Hartley-Parkinson, British Pair Arrested in U.S. on Terror Charges over Twitter Jokes, Mail Online (Jan. 31, 2012).
- For cases where the government has wide discretion (e.g., good moral character for naturalization), even casual remarks could negatively impact the discretionary decision.
What should you do?
- Please review both your own social media history as well as what others have posted about you online.
- Employers should caution employees to make sure their employment information on social media websites is accurate and consistent with petitions they filed with USCIS.
- Let our firm know if any potentially damaging information is found.
- Be cautious about accepting “friends” on any site where you post private information.
- In some cases, it may be helpful to delete potentially harmful posts, or even to delete an account entirely.
21. Prepare for U.S. Customs and Border Protection Search of Your Luggage and Devices
At airports and other ports of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for both immigration and customs-related inspections.
CBP has authority, without warrant or probable cause, to conduct interrogations and searches of persons and baggage. See INA § 287. This includes electronic devices such as laptop computers and smartphones. Such devices may hold extensive and private data (e.g., trade secrets, doctor-patient communications, research and business strategies, health information, and financial records). Such data may also include attorney-client communications with our law firm about sensitive subjects. You may be well-advised to take measures to protect your data privacy, such as traveling with temporary devices, deleting data from your regular devices, or shifting data to the cloud. You may also want to encrypt your data, use strong passwords, and backup your data in case CBP seizes your device. For more information, see these publications from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
- Pocket Guide to Protecting Your Data at the U.S. Border
- Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border: Protecting the Data on Your Devices
At the border, CBP can’t force you to reveal information, including social media handles, or the login password or decryption key for a device. (Only a judge can do that. And under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, not even a judge can’t require you to reveal information that is self-incriminating.) However, CBP may seize your device if you refuse to provide such information. Also, depending on your immigration status:
- U.S. citizen: CBP must let you enter the country.
- Lawful permanent resident: CBP must let you enter the country, but CBP may raise complicated questions about your continued status as a resident, and if CBP believes you may be subject to deportation, you may be referred to an immigration judge for a hearing.
- Nonimmigrant: CBP may deny you entry.
In any event, stay calm and respectful. Do not lie to CBP because that may be a crime and, if you are a noncitizen, a basis for deportation..
22. Does the law firm appreciate client referrals?
Yes. Referrals from clients are our main source of new business. We appreciate referrals because it’s been our experience that colleagues, relatives, and friends of our clients make the best clients. By relying on referrals we reduce the expenses and time that we need to devote to marketing, so we can pass on the savings to our clients and devote our time to serving our clients. Referrals also help the people you refer because they get high quality help, they don’t have to go through a trial and error process to find a good immigration attorney, and they don’t risk making a bad choice. Potential clients you refer can use this form to schedule a consultation and can tell us that they were referred by you.