Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court published an opinion on an interesting criminal case against a former business owner who provided immigration consulting services. This case offers some important lessons to immigrants when selecting a professional to help them with immigration-related applications.
The case involves Evelyn Sineneng-Smith, a former immigration consultant based in San Jose, California. Ms. Sineneng-Smith was sentenced to 18 months in prison and forced to pay $15,000 in fines after being found guilty of fraudulent activities surrounding immigration applications.
What did she do wrong?
Ms. Sineneng-Smith was brought to court for intentionally providing dishonest advice to her clients for financial gain. There were six plaintiffs – most of whom came from the Philippines. They had each come to the United States on tourist visas and were looking for options to remain in the country longer term. She advised each of them to apply for labor certification, which could enable them to get green cards and become legal permanent residents.
However, Ms. Sineneng-Smith knew that the law for labor certification had recently changed, and that under the new regulations, her clients were ineligible. Thus, each of her clients was denied – while she collected $5,900 from each of them for her application completion and filing fee.
In addition, she encouraged her clients to overstay their visitor visas – and to remain and work in the country illegally. She was charged – and convicted – of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration for personal financial gain.
Lessons from this case
Navigating the U.S. immigration system is a complex – and often overwhelming – process. Immigrants in the country rely on the expertise of immigration professionals to help them find legitimate pathways towards legal residence and citizenship.
This case is a sobering reminder that not all immigration consultancy services have your best interest at heart. Some may prioritize their profit over your future in this country.
Nonetheless, if you’re seeking pathways to residency or permanent citizenship in the U.S., working with an immigration attorney – who understands the ins and outs of immigration law – can greatly improve your chances of success. This case demonstrates the importance of researching any immigration lawyer’s track record before choosing to work with them.