Gudeon and McFadden

Unknown Unknowns:

‘Do I Really Need a Lawyer to Get My Spouse a Green Card?’

Updated: July 31, 2020

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know. And… it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.i

‘Do I need a lawyer if my spouse is filing for a green card for me?’  We are asked this question a lot.  Our answer:  ‘Possibly, maybe even probably, not.’  Almost everyone who has the computer and English skills required to find and read this article on the Internet is clever enough to get through the process on her own, with careful organisation and the commitment of time, persistence and patience.  

Since our clients consistently tell us that they are glad they hired us, let us suggest some reasons you might want a lawyer’s help, even though you might not need it.

1. Time

Whether you are a professional paid hundreds of pounds per hour, or a busy head of a family, your hands full trying to organise your transatlantic move, find US schools for the children, and apply for the necessary visa, your time is valuable.  By hiring a lawyer you save yourself many hours that you would otherwise spend in research and form-filling—and potentially second-guessing yourself.

A competent lawyer can save you time by helping you obtain the immigrant visa as soon as possible, usually more quickly than you could on your own.  She will do this not by ‘pulling strings’ or obtaining special treatment from Embassy staff—deeply dodgy and potentially illegal—but rather by helping you stay one step ahead of the process, so that you can be ready to respond to US Government queries and submit forms as soon as you are permitted to do so. 

How much is it worth to you to potentially have the freedom to move to the US in time for the children to begin school when scheduled, or to shorten your separation from your US citizen spouse who has moved to the US to start her new job?   How much extra will it cost you to run two households—one in the US and one in the UK—if you find out only at the immigrant visa interview that you won’t be given your immigrant visa until you have produced a police certificate or military service record that will take you months to obtain?  

2. Peace of mind

For many, the visa application process is frustrating and anxiety-producing.  A first-time applicant is likely to be dogged by the question ‘Is there something I should be doing that I’m not?’  Experienced lawyers and their staff will have been through the process dozens or even hundreds of times before.  They will have the expertise to spot problems at an early stage and solve them so that no time is wasted.  They will also have procedures, questionnaires, list and forms to elicit from you the documents and information needed immediately.

Your lawyer will also remind you, if you forget, to obtain needed materials.  If you are worried whether you need to be collecting any information, your lawyer’s office can tell you so that you either can get onto it, or relax.  You will also be advised as to which of the questions on the various forms require precise answers, and which need only your best efforts.  In many cases this advice will allow you to avoid needless frustration and anxiety.

3. Avoiding ‘unknown unknowns’

In putting together your own immigrant visa petition and application you will benefit from a wealth of information on the Internet.  Some of that information will be correct and up-to-date; some will not.   If you are going through the process for the first time you may find it difficult to judge which information is trustworthy.   

Even the best immigration guide you will find cannot be complete and tailored to your own specific facts.  The immigrant visa process has a number of permutations depending on your own situation, and many pitfalls for the unwary (which is anyone who hasn’t been through it before).   You may know that your caution for cannabis possession is likely to be a problem—but what about your overstay of your visitor’s visa a few years ago?  What are the consequences of that?  (Answer:  Potentially a ten year bar from entering America.)  Will there be a surprise at your immigrant visa medical examination—and what will you do if there is?  On the other hand, you may be worrying needlessly about something that will not present a problem at all to your application.

These and other unanticipated situations might be surprising to someone who, after all, is  likely to apply for a green card only once in his life.  But they will be familiar territory to an experienced immigration lawyer who will know what the likely consequences and possible remedies are for many situations.


Many people prepare their own family-based immigrant visa petition cases.  Many engage the services of an experienced immigration law firm.  Whether you choose to handle your own, or you decide that your time, peace of mind, and avoidance of the ‘unknown unknowns’ warrant investing in a lawyer’s assistance, we wish you success and much happiness in your life in the United States.


iUS Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, press conference on 12 February 2002.
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