SALT LAKE CITY – All immigration consultants in Utah will have to register with the Division of Consumer Protection, effective July 1, 2012, when Senate Bill 144* goes into effect. The Bill, known as the Immigration Consultants Registration Act passed both the House and Senate and was signed by the Governor in Utah’s 2012 General Session.
Immigration consultants are people who help immigrants and refugees file paperwork with the U.S. government in order to become permanent residents or naturalized U.S. citizens. Unlike immigration attorneys, immigration consultants are not registered with the bar association and may have no formal education or training. Immigration consultants cannot represent clients in court; they can only fill out immigration paperwork and give advice.
Many immigrants and refugees use the services of immigration consultants because consultants charge less than immigration attorneys. Some individuals may have situations where they only need help filling out the complex immigration paperwork and don’t legally need an attorney.
At a press conference today before the state’s Senate Capitol Building, Utah state Sen. Luz Robles said that the new legislation protects immigrants and refugees from predatory practices and identity fraud.
“The individuals that are helping fill out this (immigration) paperwork, they actually have access to your original birth certificates, your passports, your ID, everything,” Robles said.
When immigration consultants register with the Division of Consumer Protection they will have to submit a fingerprint card, a $50,000 bond, a photo ID, a passport-type picture, and an application fee of $240.
The Division of Consumer Protection doesn’t currently know how many immigration consultants practice in Utah. Officials estimated how many consultants Utah may have by examining how many immigration consultants California has. California requires that immigration consultants register with the state. Currently California has over 600 immigration consultants.
“(The registration) gives us information on who’s acting as an immigration consultant in Utah,” said Traci A. Gundersen, director of the Division of Consumer Protection.
She said the division will have a form consumers can submit to complain about an immigration consultant. Because many immigrants do not speak English, the division will also have a fluent Spanish-speaking employee available to take complaint calls.
Robles said that translation of certain words from Spanish to English can create confusion for immigrants and refugees from Latin American countries.
“The word ‘notary,’ which is called ‘notario’ in Spanish, is considered an attorney and actually has a higher ranking than just a regular attorney in (Latin American countries),” said Robles.
“(Some immigrants think) they’re dealing with an attorney, when in reality it’s not an attorney. So we’re trying to prevent any misunderstanding of people’s roles, because it’s not the same thing seeing an attorney … versus just someone that is helping them fill out the paperwork.
“We want to legitimize that business,” Robles continued. “The vast majority (of immigration consultants) are honorable people, they’re trying to help (immigrants and refugees), and they’re providing a service that has a demand. We’re just trying to make sure there’s also protection.”
Robles said that the immigration consultants she spoke with during the development of Senate Bill 144 were happy about the legislation because they felt their field is being recognized.
People looking for an immigration consultant in Southern Utah can call the Division of Consumer Protection and ask for information about a registered immigration consultant in their area. Robles said local nonprofit organizations that help immigrants, like Catholic Community Services or International Rescue Committee, often have contact information for immigration consultants and immigration attorneys.
Gundersen also said people are welcome to call the division to ask if specific individuals are registered as immigration consultants.
Readers can reach the Division of Consumer Protection by calling 801-530-6601 or 800-721-SAFE. The division’s website is http://consumerprotection.utah.gov.
* S.B. 144 passed the Senate with 21 yeas, 3 nays and 5 not voting. From Southern Utah, Sens. Anderson and Hinkins voted yea; Sen. Urquhart did not vote.
The bill passed the House with 58 yeas, 8 nays and 9 not voting. From Southern Utah, Reps. Watkins, Last, Vickers, and Ipson voted yea; and Rep. Snow did not cast a vote.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.