South Africa is a country in turmoil. Many people are making plans to emigrate. They don’t see a future for themselves there.
Immigration can be difficult though… especially to the USA!
This difficulty to immigrate to the US creates a problem. People become desperate. And when they become desperate, they become prime targets for immigration fraud and visa scams. The result can be that such people end up out of money, out of luck, or even in prison.
Here’s how to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of immigration fraud…
Immigration Fraud Exists
In case you’re wondering if immigration fraud exists, here are two examples of visa scams that South African expats in the US sucked unsuspecting people into…
The Woman in Idaho
A woman in Idaho is notorious for defrauding people and other entities. She was recently arrested on a large number of felony charges.
The story doesn’t end there. At the time of writing this, the investigation is ongoing… Among several other reported schemes, this woman also offered immigration services. I noticed that she used Facebook groups to find “business.” When people asked immigration questions, she would respond with, “PM me, I have options.”
Being aware of her reputation, I wondered what she was up to. Then people started sending me details… She would charge a few thousand dollars to register a US company for the person. She would be the company’s registered agent. At least in some cases, she then advised people to come to the US on tourist visas. Once here, the idea was to change status to L1 visas.
I ran the story by a trusted immigration attorney and he immediately told me, “visa scam!” One man lost the money he paid when she went silent after receiving the money. Another family got stuck in a foreign country after a failed entry into the US. They lost a huge amount of money in the process.
It is easy to find several people on Facebook who are fuming at this woman after dealing with her. Many believe she should go to jail, with the key thrown away!
[Update 2022: This woman was found guilty of identity theft and wire fraud and was sentenced to a few years in prison.]
The Man in Oklahoma
US authorities recently arrested a South African man in Oklahoma. The charges include several felony counts of human trafficking. Many young South Africans come to the US as non-immigrant seasonal workers on farms. Farmers file the proper paperwork for these guys and they work in the US on H2A visas.
According to the affidavit, this guy lured some workers away from the farmers where they worked legally. He promised them higher wages. Then he hired these guys out to local farmers without obtaining new visas for them.
The result was that these guys ended up stranded in Oklahoma. Without new visas, they lost their ability to work. This left them without money to support themselves or to return to South Africa.
[Update 2022: This guy has moved back to South Africa. He had a number of human trafficking charges filed against him, so it is possible that his return to South Africa was part of a plea deal with prosecutors.]
Attorneys Aren’t Innocent Either
While there are excellent attorneys out there, there are also some bad apples. Here are examples of what two immigration attorneys did to people who trusted them. (People with knowledge of these events sent this to us.)
The Attorney with Bad Service
A South African couple wanted to emigrate. They went to see an immigration attorney in Texas for a paid consultation. The couple wanted to expand their existing business into the US and get L1 visas.
The attorney gave them no useful information and had not prepared any documentation. The attorney kept on saying that the couple needed to enter the Green Card lottery and see if they got selected. Beyond that, the attorney was more interested in text messages and the next client. In the end, the couple felt cheated out of their money.
This example does not amount to immigration fraud, but only bad service. The couple then went to see another immigration attorney. There they got excellent service and had a wonderful experience.
The Attorney using Fake Companies
There is an immigration attorney on the East Coast who is reportedly up to some unsavory business as well. Someone wrote the following about this attorney:
I’ve heard [the attorney] sets up fake companies, and that [the attorney] charges one price then suddenly requests more to release paper work.
We’ve heard that [the attorney] holds paperwork ransom or that [the attorney] takes on a client, charges them and then doesn’t even do the paperwork required, and then blames the client for their failed immigration attempt.
This attorney is reportedly also quick to threaten unhappy clients with lawsuits if they talk about reporting the attorney to the state bar.
These examples illustrate that immigration fraud is real. Poor service in the immigration industry is real. People get ripped off if they aren’t careful.
How To Avoid Becoming A Victim
Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of immigration fraud:
- If you want to immigrate to the US, but you do not have a clear path to a suitable visa, it makes you vulnerable. Be VERY careful of scammers. If you become desperate, it makes you an easy target because “finally somebody has a solution.”
- South Africa also has its share of crooks. Don’t assume that the person is honest because he or she is also a South African. Keep your guard up until you can verify their honesty.
- If you are working in the US on a work visa, do not change jobs until you have a new visa for the new job.
- If someone gives you an immigration option but tells you not to talk to anyone about it, that’s a red flag. Chances are that they’re trying to hide something.
- If someone tells you to come to the US on a tourist visa, with the intent of changing status here, that’s a red flag. US embassies look out for people that may stay behind, before issuing tourist visas.
- If someone gives you a way to immigrate to the US, check for yourself if it is legal to do that. If not, you could be guilty of an immigration offense and get deported, or worse, go to prison.
- If you decide to work with an immigration attorney, check that attorney out before the time. Look at reviews. Search on your favorite search engine for “attorney name reviews”. (Replace attorney name with your attorney’s name.) Ask around for others who may have worked with the attorney. Facebook can be a good place to ask.
Also, visit the US Citizenship and Immigration Services resource for avoiding immigration fraud and visa scams.
What To Do If You Become A Victim
If you become a victim of immigration fraud, a visa scam, or a bad attorney, you could try to sue. You might not be successful, but it could be worth a shot. The next best thing to do is to report the person and let the law deal with them.
How to Report Immigration Fraud
Visit the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to report immigration fraud.
According to the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA), you have the following options:
- File a complaint with the state bar where your lawyer is licensed to practice.
- File a complaint with the Dept of Homeland Security at (202) 272-1873 or DisciplinaryCounsel@uscis.dhs.gov.
- File a complaint with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (U.S. Dept of Justice) at (703) 305-1020 or EOIR.Attorney.Discipline@usdoj.gov.
You can also visit the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for state-by-state information on reporting visa scams.
Bringing It All Together
Now you know that immigration fraud and visa scams are real. The key to not getting caught in an immigration scam is to be cautious with who you’re dealing with. Do your own research. Make sure that what you’re getting into, is legal. And if you become a victim of a visa scam or bad lawyer, report the bastard. It will help to stop them from scamming other people as well.
Please share this article far and wide. This has to stop!
If you have a comment to add, please do so below…
John, thank you for your excellent article. Hope that it will help some people not to be scammed! Christa
Thanks, Christa. Glad you liked it. I also hope that it saves a few people from getting scammed.
Recently saw Clifford Morris from FastTrackToUSA advertise seminars in SA to help people move to the US. Do you know if this is a scam or reputable people to deal with?
Hi Theresa. I have never heard of Clifford Morris or FastTrackToUSA, so I can’t give an opinion on them. You may want to search Google for “FastTrackToUSA reviews” or “Clifford Morris reviews” and see what comes up. Of course, don’t consider any reviews on their own website. If I hear anything bad about them, I’ll contact you by email. It’s good that you are diligent about checking people out before trusting them. Too many have been hurt. Good luck!
Stay away from Clifford Morris, he is an ex South African lookin to make a quick buck on desperate Saffas. I know I am one of them
We want to immigrate to US, and found a company that can get us in on low paying jobs. We need to pay for the visa almost R200k. Is this legal?
Jane, I would be extremely careful about that. Do a search online using the company’s name, followed by “scam” or “review” and see what comes up.