Marriage Based Adjustment of Status Attorney – Can I have an Attorney present with me at the interview?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) permits the change of an individual’s immigration status while in the United States from nonimmigrant or parolee (temporary) to immigrant (permanent) if the individual was inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States and is able to meet all required qualifications for a green card (permanent residence) in a particular category. The common term for a change to permanent status is “adjustment of status.” In order to conclude the process the couple must go through an interview before a USCIS official, establish that the case is bona fide, before obtaining a Green Card.

Many clients are hesitant to take an attorney with them, and are often confused as to whether one can even have an attorney present at the interview. Some officers make it difficult on lawyers and clients who are represented. A recent AILA meeting with the USCIS clarified a few points.

The following questions were raised by American Immigration Lawyers representatives: We have received reports that some field offices restrict the involvement of the attorney during the interview process. The USCIS Milwaukee Field Office has stated that it follows AFM §15.8, which explains that the attorney’s role at the interview is limited to advising his or her clients on points of law, and that the attorney may not respond to questions the interviewing officer has asked the applicant. The office has stated that after the interview, the attorney may follow-up with any concerns regarding the interview and interview questions, or may submit additional information in response to a Notice of Intent to Deny. While we understand the attorney may not answer any questions on behalf of the applicant, there are often times where it is not only appropriate, but helpful to the examiner for an attorney to help clarify a point of confusion, provide prepared documents on a legal issue, or explain a complicated procedural issue in the applicant’s immigration history that the applicant might not fully understand. What guidance, if any, in addition to the AFM, has been provided to USCIS examiners regarding the role of the attorney in the interview process?

Immigration Response: USCIS has spent a considerable amount of time training the ISOs on interview techniques. This training is provided at the field offices and at the ISO Basic training and includes information on the role of the attorney or representative in the interview. Also, as discussed at the meeting with AILA, AIC, and USCIS in April 2011, we welcome suggested language from AILA to potentially incorporate into any guidance USCIS creates regarding this topic.

Attorney Seating. We have been informed that during interview for immigration benefits, attorneys are sometimes instructed to sit in a corner of the room, behind or otherwise apart from the applicant. Examiners have remarked that this rule is to prevent attorneys from participating in the interview. Such a rule conflicts with the right to representation as provided under 8 CFR §292.5(b). Would Field Operations send clear guidance to the field offices stating that attorneys have a right to attend and represent their clients at interviews for immigration benefits, and should be permitted to sit next to their clients, or make other comparable arrangements if space does not easily permit, that would allow the attorney to properly observe the interview and provide appropriate legal assistance?
Immigration Response: Field Operations provided guidance to its offices regarding seating of attorneys during interviews in May 2010 and again in April 2011.

It is critical that USCIS respect the integrity of the attorney/client relationship. Attorneys and/or accredited representatives should, barring safety or security concerns, be permitted to sit next to their clients during interviews. In terms of safety and security, in directing seating during benefit interviews,
adjudicators should ensure that:

Officers have a full view of everyone in the room,

No one in the room, other than the officer, is seated in view of a government computer/monitor screen, and

Egress is not blocked for any of those present in the interview room. Please understand that some interview rooms are not large enough to accommodate the applicant(s) and attorney all sitting in the same row. In these situations, an attorney may be asked to sit behind his or her client.

If you have retained an attorney, it is your right to have that attorney be present with you at the interview and provide you the best representation at that interview. A competent attorney should know his rights before the USCIS, in addition to knowing the law. USCIS are not always correct, it is our role to advocate for our clients.

Post-Interview Follow-up Notices Not Sent to Attorneys

Members have reported instances where USCIS concluded an interview with the G-28 attorney present, and USCIS has later contacted the applicant without notifying the attorney, to request that the applicant return to USCIS for a second interview, to sign a sworn statement, or to request more evidence. Absent an attorney’s written waiver of appearance or withdrawal of representation, what is the protocol for a field office to contact a represented individual without counsel present?
USCIS Response: ISOs should contact the attorney or representative of record; however, on occasion this does not happen. USCIS believes that these are isolated incidents and would welcome examples. We have asked field leadership to remind ISOs that represented applicants should not be contacted without first notifying the attorney and any notices or correspondence should also be sent to the attorney.