Immigration is quickly becoming one of the most complicated areas of the law. While any practice of law requires specialized knowledge and training to truly master, immigration has been subject to constant reforms and the system is increasingly over burdened. The reality is what an immigration matter will ultimately cost depends on several factors in addition to attorney’s fees.
Attorney’s fees may ultimately wind up being one of the most costly aspects of the immigration process. However, when considering the consequences of failing to complete the process properly, including a loss of work opportunities due to immigrant status or even deportation, the seriousness of the situation becomes apparent.
To resolve your immigration issue, it is important to understand how the system works. Below is a general breakdown of the most common costs associated with immigration:
- Filing Fees – This may be the biggest variable in the immigration process. For example, some visas may be as little as a few hundred dollars, and some papers may not cost anything to file. On the other hand, some fees range upwards of $1,500 per person.
- Miscellaneous – Expedited processing, requests for evidence, and hiring an interpreter should be factored as separate, and occasionally steep, expenses. For example, it’s not uncommon for interpreters to cost $200 per session. These miscellaneous fees can quickly stack up from anywhere a couple hundred to several thousands of dollars.
- Attorney’s Fees – Unlike many attorneys, immigration lawyers may not offer a free consultation. The reason why is less important that just realizing that the first meeting may still cost anywhere between $50-$100. From the point the attorney-client relationship is established, the total cost in attorney’s fees will range anywhere between $2,000 and $12,000.
With immigration lawyers, their cost will be largely determined by their experience. There is a common misconception that more experienced means better. In some areas of the law, this may be true, but as mentioned above, immigration law evolves and changes so quickly that younger, less experienced lawyers may be just as competent as older, more experienced counterparts.
Two of the biggest considerations the lawyer will make in determining how to bill a case will be what type of visa is sought or filing is required, and the income of the client.
- Filing – For example, filing an EB-5 will be among the most expensive, whereas a simple re-entry permit may only be a fraction of the cost.
- Income of the Client – Immigration lawyers understand their clients may not always be the most financially secure, and are willing to work out payment plans or work at a reduced fee for qualifying clients. Still, it is hard work to become a lawyer, and they cannot be expected to work for free.
Another big consideration in the overall cost of the lawyer is how they bill. Generally, immigration lawyers either bill through a flat fee or by the hour. If a lawyer charges a flat fee, expect to pay $1,000-$5,000. With an hourly fee, it is not uncommon for legal bills to quickly get into the $10,000 range.
Hourly rates will vary greatly, depending on the relative ability of the lawyer. Expect to pay $100-$700 an hour for a lawyer’s time. The decision to bill hourly may be because the case is unique, particularly complex, or will involve multiple hearings before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USICS.) With an hourly fee structure, it is not uncommon for legal bills to get into the $10,000 – $15,000 range quickly.
A lawyer working on an hourly rate may require the a retainer payment to cover a certain amount of that lawyer’s time.
Immigration lawyers understand the emotional costs the process has, as well as potential financial restraints, and aim to bill accordingly. However, it is always a good practice to learn more about what you are paying for. Ultimately, the best billing structure is the one that works for the client.
Knowing the basics of how attorney’s fees are structured is the first step to starting a discussion with your lawyer. Don’t be afraid to ask why they settled on the billing system they did and how they plan on using their time to secure the best result for you.