IMMIGRATION ISSUES HAVE BECOME A HOT-BUTTON TOPIC in the U.S. While most Notaries never are asked to notarize immigration documents, it’s increasingly likely that at some point you will. When you do, you’ll realize signers from other countries bring a number of issues to the table, including language barriers, identification challenges and the temptation to engage in the unauthorized practice of law.
Like native-born Americans, immigrants need to have documents notarized when they purchase homes, take out mortgages, transfer vehicle ownership, fill out school permission slips for their children, and more. So it’s important to understand how to provide notarial services to immigrants while avoiding common but potentially harmful mistakes. Verifying Identity Immigrants often lack the traditional forms of identification needed to establish satisfactory evidence of identity for a notarization. Many only possess IDs issued in their home countries, which may be unacceptable under state law to present to a Notary. But that doesn’t mean you always have to turn these individuals away empty-handed. Here are some options:
Foreign passports. Many states permit you to accept foreign passports. But make sure you understand any requirements that your state may have. Some jurisdictions, for example, require the passport to be stamped by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Others, like Arizona and Texas, only allow foreign passports for transactions conveying or financing real property. Personal knowledge. Every state but California permits Notaries to rely on their personal knowledge of signers to verify their identity. If you personally know the immigrant, you can perform the notarization without ID. If not, you can ask the immigrant if they know a Notary personally and refer them to that Notary. Credible identifying witnesses. Most states allow signers
without ID to be identified by credible witnesses — either one or two, depending on the state and the rules. In general, when using one credible witness, the immigrant signer and you must know the witness. When using two credible witnesses, the witness must present acceptable ID and know the signer. Credible witnesses must be willing to take an oath swearing that they personally know the signer. Consular IDs. Many immigrants present an identification card that is obtained from their embassies or consulates. However, consular identification cards, known in Spanish as matricula consular cards, have been criticized by law enforcement agencies as being vulnerable to fraud, and they aren’t universally acceptable for notarization. California, Illinois and Nevada are three states that recently have changed their laws to allow Notaries to accept consular IDs, but not all are acceptable. Special state-issued IDs. A number of states also have started issuing driver’s licenses and non-driver’s IDs to immigrants who lack proof of identity required of native born residents. But again, whether Notaries can accept these IDs depends on their state’s laws. Breaking Language Barriers Many immigrant signers speak little or no English. If you speak the signer’s language, you’ll be able to help them. However, if you cannot communicate directly with the signer, refer them to a reputable Notary who is fluent in the language. Almost every state prohibits the use of a third-party interpreter to communicate with a signer because of the risk of misinterpretation and fraud. Arizona is an exception, allowing Notaries and signers to communicate through a translator. Then there are foreign-language documents. If your client presents a document written in a language you cannot read, be sure to follow state law or the recommendations of your Notary-regulating agency. For example, North Dakota requires a foreign-language document to include a permanently affixed, accurate English translation in order to be notarized. And Arizona law requires documents to be signed in characters the Notary can read and understand. California and North Carolina require the notarial certificate on the foreign-language document to be in English. Sticking to Your Role One of the common issues that arise with immigrants is their misunderstanding of your role. Immigrants may have utilized the services of a Notary in their home country and then expect you to do what Notaries back home can do. One common example is for a citizen of another country to present a “proof of life” certificate to a Notary. Many countries require citizens to have this document notarized
and submitted yearly in order to collect a pension. Most U.S. states, however, do not authorize Notaries to notarize these “proof of life” certificates because state law doesn’t allow a Notary to certify that an individual is alive. This often confuses signers who have been directed by the foreign agency to have a U.S. Notary complete the “proof of life” certificate. An alternative that may be acceptable is to have the individual sign and swear to a written statement that they are alive. You can let the signer know you can notarize their signature on such a written statement if they check with the receiving agency back home to confirm they will accept it instead of the “proof of life” certificate. Avoiding the Unauthorized Practice of Law Arguably the most publicized pitfall for nonattorney Notaries is providing legal assistance to foreign-born clients. Many well-intentioned Notaries in immigrant communities want to help their clients, but rendering any legal assistance — such as suggesting what form an immigrant signer needs or helping them answer questions on a form — is a serious breach of law unless you are an attorney. As long as you take care to stay within your duties as a Notary, you can effectively help immigrant signers. n
Who Can Provide Immigration Help Immigration attorneys: The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has approximately 13,500 active members. Accredited representatives: Accredited representatives are specially qualified nonattorneys authorized by the U.S. Department of Justice to represent noncitizens in immigration matters. The Executive Office for Immigration Review maintains an active list of representatives. Immigration Consultants: A handful of states allow non attorneys to provide limited non-legal immigration assistance — such as translating or transcribing a client’s answers on USCIS forms, obtaining copies of supporting documents and clerical tasks. Depending on the state, they can be called immigration consultants, immigration assistance providers or immigration forms specialists.

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