June 13, 2012

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New Law Aims to Protect Immigrants from Predatory Consultants

Heather Stewart

June 13, 2012

A new law requiring individuals practicing as immigration consultants to register with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection will go into effect July 1. The law is intended to prevent identity fraud and protect immigrants and refugees from predatory consultants.

Passed in the most recent legislative session, S.B.144 was sponsored by Sen. Luz Robles, who said her office has received numerous complaints about immigration consultants.

Such consultants are non-attorneys who provide assistance or advice to those seeking legal status in the United States, Robles said. The assistance may include translation of documents, completing and submitting state or federal forms, or securing documentation like birth certificates.

The new registration requirement is “a good way to sort of keep these practices in check and ensure honesty within the field and make sure that everyone is transparent in dealing with their clients that are trying to become either naturalized or legal,” said Traci Gundersen, director of the Division of Consumer Protection.

“It just gives us information on who is acting as an immigration consultant in Utah,” she said.

To register, a consultant must apply for a permit, submit fingerprints and identification for a background check, obtain a $50,000 bond and pay a $240 application fee. The requirement does not apply to lawyers.

“People are paying thousands of dollars” for immigration consulting services, said Robles. But clients may not fully understand what services they’ll be receiving, or a consultant may steal their personal information or simply disappear after receiving payment.

“[We want to] make sure that we are eradicating any deceptive practice from this immigration consultant field,” said Gundersen.

In addition to the requirement to register with the state, immigration consultants must now provide a written contract to clients—in their native language and in English—that spells out what services are provided and how much they will cost. The contract must also disclose that a complaint may be filed with the Division of Consumer Protection for any violations.

Before hiring an immigration consultant, Gundersen advises consumers check with the Division of Consumer Protection to see if the consultant is registered.

Penalties for violating the law could include fines and/or criminal prosecution. The fines range from $100 to $5,000, and intentional violations are considered class A misdemeanors carrying a fine of up to $10,000.

Consumers wishing to file a complaint or check the registration status of a consultant can contact the Division of Consumer Protection at (801) 530-6601 or visit www.consumerprotection.utah.gov for more information.

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