When Gav and I decided to get married, we knew we would have to wade through a sea of paperwork and documentation in order to be together. Since we chose to start our lives together in the US, our path led us to the K1 Fiance Visa. The fiance visa requires a reasonable amount of paperwork that will be evaluated and hopefully approved by both the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the State Department. With so many forms to complete and two different agencies reviewing the documents, we knew that forgetting to “dot an ‘i’ or cross a ‘t'” could cost us time and money. While it is certainly doable to complete the forms independently, we asked ourselves if using the services of an immigration lawyer would be worth the initial cost.
Why use the services of a lawyer?
1) Peace of mind. No need to worry about “did we forget to check one important box?!” and someone else is responsible if there are any problems.
2) Someone in-the-know can answer your questions. Although each form has a set of directions, there are still numerous instances where couples have questions about an individual item on a form. In addition to the forms, we had quite a few questions about our case. And as great as the free help is online, it’s normal to still have lingering questions like “but does that apply to me?”
3) Experienced professionals can walk you through your unique case. The forms are the same, but the people are not. Like reason #2, free online help addressed most of our questions, but we wanted to speak with someone about our unique case. Our biggest point of concern? I had to complete a form that proves I can support Gav financially at 125% of the poverty rate for two people. How do I do this? By providing my most recent tax return information. Usually this would be no problem, however, since I was living in Australia and not working for most of 2011, I did not meet the necessary threshold. They don’t care about your current salary/income but about how much you made in the previous tax year. So we could either wait for another year OR ask a family member or friend to serve as our co-sponsor, which could have legal implications. I didn’t want a temporary lack of income in one year to cause us problems, so we decided that speaking with a professional to walk us through the support forms item-by-item, determining what was TRULY necessary could be worth the financial investment.
4) Someone to help you navigate an RFE. An RFE is a “request for further evidence”. If something is missing or incorrect about your application, USCIS will send the US fiance an RFE. Once the American fiance addresses the request, a USCIS official will continue the review. From what we’ve read, many RFEs are easy enough for the couple to handle. However, RFEs can be minimized with a lawyer’s trained eye reviewing your application before it’s ever submitted. And, we’ve read that sometimes a USCIS official is not aware of small updates or changes to policy and sends an RFE when it’s not necessary. A lawyer can nip the problem in the bud before the couple has to handle it.
5) Translation services. Gav and I both speak English, though he may argue this is up for debate, so we don’t need translation services to translate his documents. Some couples choose to pay a lawyer who offers translation services to ensure that the foreign fiance’s documents are in perfect English for USCIS and the State Department.
6) It may add legitimacy to your petition. Lawyers suggest that using their services demonstrates that your petition is 100% ready to be reviewed by a government official and is error free. It only includes the required documents — lawyers point out that many couples include additional information hoping it will help, but the superfluous documentation only slows the reviewer.
Why skip the lawyer and complete the fiance visa petition on your own?
1) Feeling of accomplishment. Who doesn’t love the feeling of tackling the process on their own, emerging victorious and saving hundreds or thousands of dollars?
2) Money. Money. Money. The least expensive lawyer we found was $600. Most charged anywhere from $1,300-$2,400 and included translation services. These fees are on top of the ones you have to pay to file the petition, receive the visa, print photographs, have a medical exam, ship documents domestically and abroad, request a police certificate, etc. Who doesn’t want to save money for another trip to see your fiance or I don’t know, for the wedding, moving expenses, and honeymoon.
What did Gav and I do?
Gav and I LOVE saving money, but we chose peace of mind over the do-it-yourself approach.
Once we realized the more expensive lawyers also included translation services we didn’t need, we went with the $600 option with the folks at USAVisaNow.com. We just wanted a little bit of hand holding. Someone to answer our questions so we felt confident about submitting our petition.
Our case manager replied to all of our emails within 1-2 business days. He shared a template for a letter I needed to write which truly simplified the process. When Gav and I felt so confused by conflicting advice we read on free websites, our case manager gave us the bottom line, definitive answer.
Now that we’re just one interview away from Gav receiving his fiance visa, we’re looking ahead to our next round of paperwork — the Adjustment of Status (AOS) we will file about two weeks after getting married. Though this process will be just as time intensive as the fiance visa petition, we are strongly considering choosing the DIY approach for our next step. After all, we have a couch to buy and a honeymoon to plan. The AOS process costs even more than the fiance visa one.
As I won’t be traveling overseas for quite a while, stay tuned for more visa and wedding updates.