The USCIS forms are free to obtain, yet most require a fee when submitted. Anyone can get the forms and their corresponding instructions, for free, at www.uscis.gov. Yet, as an immigration lawyer, I was dismayed to read this week about the criminal indictment of several Missourians for defrauding customers by selling free immigration forms and misleading consumers. These folks advertised immigration services online, directing consumers to call a toll-free number for immigration assistance. They led consumers to believe that they were immigration “agents,” and advised them which forms to use. Then, even though the forms are free to obtain, they charged consumers the stated USCIS filing fee amount and FedExed the free forms. Consumers were led to believe that by paying the fee for the forms, they were paying the USCIS filing fees. After submitting the forms to the USCIS, consumers were then surprised to find that they had to first pay the USCIS filing fee.
After reading this article, I googled “immigration forms,” and the USCIS website for free forms is not first. Instead I found many companies that will sell the forms as part of a “how-to” guide, for anywhere from $50-$70. Although I did not download any of these products, the table of contents for these “how-to” guides seems to mirror the USCIS form instructions (available for free). One company actually did say, on the web page for each form, that the forms were available for free on the USCIS website.
The Missouri folks ran this form-selling business for almost two years. Their business, as well as the number of other companies selling free forms, indicates that there really are a lot of people looking for immigration forms and not finding them at www.uscis.gov. So why doesn’t the USCIS put them in the U.S. post offices next to all the Federal and state income tax forms? We could start with the more popular forms: the I-90 Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card; the I-539 Application to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status; the N-400 Application for Naturalization; along with a list of all the forms and how to obtain them for FREE.
I realize that many more people need income tax forms than need immigration forms, but the U.S. post office also handles U.S. passport applications. And even though the forms are also available at the USCIS Field Offices, many states have only one Field Office in the state while some have none. Providing USCIS forms in the U.S. post offices at least provides a physical, nearby place for people to obtain free USCIS forms.
As an immigration lawyer, I need to point out here that filing an application for an immigration benefit is usually far more complex than completing a few forms, and doing it incorrectly can have severe ramifications, such as removal (deportation), or having an immigration benefit such as naturalization, a green card, or a work visa, denied or delayed. The simplicity of many immigration forms gives the appearance that all someone really needs is the actual form and the address for where to send it. In this law office, clients routinely complete their own simple biographic forms because they know this information (date of birth, parents’ information, etc.). But an immigration lawyer provides expertise, legal knowledge, and experience, specific to each particular matter that cannot be derived from a $50 how-to form.