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Who is an immigration law expert and who isn’t

Q: In your columns, you often suggest readers consult an “immigration law expert.” Is that a defined category?

Tony K, Ronkonkoma, Long Island

A: No. Immigration law expert is a term I use to encourage readers to get knowledgeable and qualified legal advice. Immigration law is unquestionably one of our country’s most complicated areas of law. It requires an understanding of the applicable law and regulations, but also rapid changes in local and national practice. Still, states, including New York, prohibit lawyers from claiming a specialty or expertise in immigration law.

I also refer often to an “expert” rather than “attorney” because some immigration law experts are not attorneys. Our immigration laws allow individuals accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals to practice immigration law. The accredited individual must be working for a recognized not-for-profit agency. Some of these “accredited representatives” know more about immigration law than the attorneys who supervise them. I consider many of them, too, to be “experts.”

Q: I am a permanent resident. My wife is abroad. Should I petition for her now or wait until I become a U.S. citizen?

Name withheld, Florida

A: You should petition for your wife now. Once you naturalize, you can upgrade her case to that of the spouse of a U.S. citizen.

Your wife will get here faster if you naturalize. As the spouse of a permanent resident, your wife faces a wait of 18 months or longer before she can interview for her immigrant visa. That’s because of a backlog in the quota in her visa category. The spouse of a U.S. citizen can immigrate without regard to the quota. So, the only wait for a spouse of a U.S. citizen is processing time. That’s about a year from when you file the petition.

Immigration processing times seem to be slowing. By filing now you can get U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to approve a petition for your wife, the first step in the process. If you naturalize before your wife immigrates, you can notify the U.S. Department of State National Visa Center and/or the U.S. consulate abroad where your wife will interview that you have become a U.S. citizen.

Allan Wernick is an attorney and director of the City University of New York’s Citizenship Now! project. Send questions and comments to Allan Wernick, New York Daily News, 7th Fl., 4 New York Plaza, New York, N.Y., 10004 or email to [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @awernick.

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