Finding basic (less-than-lawyer-level) immigration help

We have a few fairly straightforward immigration issues to take care of.

Mrs. Devil immigrated in the 80s and has a resident alien/green card.

The card is about twenty years old, and aside from updating the card itself (picture?) we want to make changes to both first and last names. It has a different spelling of her first name (one letter off: Y instead of J) than other ‘official’ documents, and it still has the last name from her first marriage.

Her travel documents expired years ago. We’re planning a trip outside the country in December and need to get these updated.

Lastly, she wants to apply for citizenship.

That’s a lot of forms to fill out. That’s a lot of time looking over the USCIS site. While we could untangle the bureaucracy, we think it would be easier, quicker, and less mistake-prone to hire someone (we figure it’s similar to doing our own taxes; it’s one thing to fill out a few basic forms, but another when there are several schedules that need to be filled out). Taxes have H&R Bloc, tax accountants, and tax attorneys. We figure we should start with the generic H&R Bloc level of immigration help, and if/when there’s a bump we’ll elevate to the next level of professional and hire an immigration attorney.

But Google returns a nightmare array of legitimate and not-so-legitimate looking services. While we understand we’re paying for freely available information, that doesn’t mean that we want to go with Vic from ShamWow or that free money question mark guy. Also, we live in the sticks now, so there isn’t a large immigrant community to tap into. Any legitimate or vetted referral services? Any suggestions as to how to cut through the chaff and find a decent service?



From my personal experience, I don’t think there is anyone between doing it yourself and using an immigration law firm. The person filling in the forms will be a paralegal, so the only thing the attorney will be doing is reviewing them.

In my experience, a lot of those non-attorney firms are really shady and they prey on immigrants who don’t know any better. From what I recall, Eva Luna is an immigration paralegal and she can answer with a lot more detail than I can.

I agree that I don’t think that there is anyone between an immigration lawyer and you. But frankly, I don’t think the forms are that complex or the bureaucracy is that difficult to navigate. You may want to take a shot at it yourself before investing thousands in an attorney.

For starters, in order to change the spelling of her name on the green card, for sure you’re going to need documentary proof of a legal name change, at the very least. What do you have in that department?

There is a spot on the N-400 (naturalization application) where they ask if you want to change your name on naturalization. That might be the easiest way to deal with the whole name thing for US documentation purposes.

Where are you, geographically? I might be able to point you in the direction of a non-sleazy law firm. But if timing is an issue for travel purposes, it’s possible that neither her new green card nor a naturalization application would be approved in time for her to travel (depending on location, processing is runing about 6 - 8 months). It sounds like you ought to start with her native country’s consulate and check how much of a pain it is, and how long it will take, to renew her passport, preferably with the name change.

More later - the masses are huddling.

Eva Luna, Immigration Paralegal


She’s from the former USSR, so the consulate option is probably out.

I’m not sure when the first name changed; probably as soon as she learned to speak/write English and began using the English spelling of her name. As for the last name, we have both divorce and marriage certificates (and both have the Anglicized version of her first name).

The only thing that has a significant timing factor is the December trip and its need for travel documents. Her green card is an olllld version, one without an expiration date on it. Beyond needing updating, I assume that without a bit more we’ll likely run into a spot of bother at the boarder.

See, the timing knowledge and offhand familiarity/expertise with the forms is what we’re looking to pay for. We could probably get all relevant information out to someone in a thirty minute interview and be told/given what to fill out and where to file it for the next thirty or so minutes. Up the time to two hours, and it’s still a likely time-savings over doing it ourselves: a couple hours of a professional is definitely worth the eight to ten of ours.
Oh, we’re in New York, about an hour outside The City.

Not necessarily. Where, specifically, is she from? PM me if you want; the logistics for this can be all over the place, depending on the details.

You may not have a problem at all, if the difference is just a minor transliteration issue. But you may run into an adjudicator who is a PITA. Do you have, by any chance, two different docs with photo, one with the old spelling and one with the new? That might help, even if they are old docs, as long as you can tell they refer to the same person.

Yep, a few years back the old, no-expiration green cards all expired. She should get a new card, for sure. But if you replace her passport, you can make an appointment to go to the local USCIS office and have a temporary stamp put in her passport indicating that she is a permanent resident.

I think I have info somewhere on an attorney in NYC that my boss recommended; PM me if you want the info, and I’ll see if I can find it.