When does a legal worker have enough knowledge and experience in immigration law to qualify for accredited representative status? If you have listened to some webinars on immigration law topics, worked on cases under the supervision of an attorney or accredited staff, and perhaps attended a specialized training on citizenship or VAWA, is that enough? According to a new BIA decision, the answer is "no." A recognized agency's application for initial accreditation for a program staff member must show that the candidate recently completed at least one formal training course designed to give new practitioners a solid overview of the fundamentals of immigration law and procedure. Matter of Central California Legal Services, Inc., 26 I & N Dec. 105 (BIA 2013).
The case before the Board concerned a candidate for accredited representative status who had represented clients in immigration matters for several years at her nonprofit agency, as well as attended various trainings on specific immigration law issues. Nevertheless, the Board denied the initial application for accreditation filed on her behalf, reasoning that the applicant was unable to show the "broad knowledge of immigration law and procedure" required by the Board's decision in Matter of EAC, 25 I&N Dec. 563 (2008). In that case, the Board held that an accredited representative must be "able to readily identify immigration issues of all types, even in areas where no services are provided," and possess "the ability to discern when it is in the best interests of the aliens served to refer those with more complex immigration issues elsewhere." Id. at 564.
Following the initial denial, the candidate for accreditation took steps to satisfy the EAC "broad knowledge" standard by participating in a two-day overview of immigration law course that addressed core concepts and procedures in immigration law. In fact, the course she took - Introduction to Immigration Law Practice: A Course for New Practitioners - was sponsored and conducted by CLINIC and addresses such topics as basic concepts in immigration law, interviewing and legal research, overview of family-based immigration, inadmissibility and deportability concepts and grounds, removal proceedings, naturalization and citizenship. The sponsoring organization then resubmitted the application for staff accreditation, and it was approved. The Board designated it as a precedent decision in order to establish the standard to be applied for all recognized agencies seeking accredited representative status for non-attorney staff.
It's important to note that this new decision imposes a specific requirement of participation in a formal overview training in order to establish that the candidate for accreditation has the appropriate broad knowledge of immigration law. In the Board's view, an overview course on the fundamentals of immigration law and procedure "provides critical insights into the interconnectedness of immigration laws and the possible interaction of other areas of law with immigration laws...and alerts the proposed representative to the dangers of over-specialization, the value of referral to more expert representation, and the potential for unintended harm when legal advice is not supported by a broad knowledge of the law." Central California Legal Services, Inc., at 106.
What does this decision mean for your agency? First, make plans to ensure that all staff members whom your program plans to sponsor for initial accredited representative status attend some type of formal training on the fundamentals of immigration law. An application for accreditation will probably not be approved without it, even if the candidate has attended a number of trainings on specific immigration law issues. Second, when applying for staff accreditation, be sure to provide the information and documentation the Board wants to see to establish the candidate's training background. As detailed in the decision, this includes a list of the immigration courses the staff member has attended, the dates of the overview course and any other trainings, the providers of the trainings, the hours completed, the topics addressed at each training, and copies of any certificates of completion, where available. Third, plan for ongoing training for staff members after initial accreditation. This new decision notes that renewal requests should also provide documentation that the accredited representative has received additional formal training in immigration law since the most recent accreditation.
If you need to find an overview course on immigration law, CLINIC can help you, and you don't have long to wait. Check out our training calendar at http://cliniclegal.org/calendar to read about all upcoming CLINIC trainings.