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Chapter 2. Representation of Parties before the Administrative Appeals Office

2.1       Representation Generally

Appellants[18] may represent themselves before the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) or choose to have an attorney or other authorized representative represent them.[19]  Most representatives are attorneys or accredited representatives.[20]  In limited circumstances, law students and law graduates[21] or certain reputable individuals[22] may also be authorized to represent appellants before the AAO.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) cannot recommend a representative, but the USCIS Find Legal Services webpage provides general information about obtaining professional representation.  In addition, the USCIS Common Scams webpage provides information about organizations and individuals who are not authorized to give legal advice, such as “notarios” and other unauthorized representatives.  The USCIS website also contains instructions for reporting immigration scams.

USCIS generally does not recognize the beneficiary of a petition as having standing in a proceeding.[23]  Therefore, unless otherwise instructed by USCIS and as specifically permitted by law, USCIS will not recognize a representative who is acting solely on behalf of the beneficiary of a petition.[24]

The AAO may reject or dismiss an appeal or deny a motion filed by an individual who is not authorized to represent parties before USCIS.[25]

For more information on representation, see the regulations at 8 C.F.R. §§ 1.2 (definitions of attorney and representative), 103.2(a)(3) (allowing representation), and 292 (representation and appearances).

2.2      Notice of Entry of Appearance

To establish their eligibility to appear on behalf of an appellant, certain representatives must submit a new, properly executed Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative.

(a)      Who Can Use Form G-28

Only attorneys, accredited representatives, and law students and law graduates working under the supervision of an attorney or accredited representative may use Form G-28.

(b)      New Form G-28 Required for Appeals

A representative who files an appeal on behalf of an appellant must submit a new, original, properly executed Form G-28.[26]

(c)      New Form G-28 Recommended for Motions and Certifications

The AAO recommends that representatives submit a new Form G-28 with a motion to reopen or reconsider.  Similarly, when responding to an initial decision certified to the AAO, representatives should submit a new Form G-28 with any supporting brief.

(d)      Original Signatures Required

Each Form G-28 must contain the original signatures of the appellant and representative.  A signature stamp or typewritten name in place of a signature is not sufficient.  A photocopy or fax of a signed Form G-28 is also not acceptable.

If the appellant is a company or organization, the AAO suggests that the signer print his or her name at Part 2, Item Numbers 5.a. - 5.c. in addition to the company or organization name at Item Number 6.  If the AAO cannot determine who signed a Form G-28 for the appellant, it may request additional information to confirm that the appellant authorized the representation.[27]

The signature of the representative on Form G-28 constitutes a representation that he or she is authorized and qualified to represent parties before USCIS.[28]

2.3      Service of Decisions, Notices, and Other Communications

If the record of proceedings contains a valid Form G-28, the AAO will send decisions, notices, and requests for evidence to both the appellant and the representative.[29]  In some circumstances, the AAO may send a written communication only to the representative.[30]

In addition, the AAO will only respond to telephone inquiries from a representative about a specific case if the record of proceedings contains a valid Form G-28 for that representative.  For more information about case-specific telephone inquiries, see Chapter 6.1(c).

2.4      Change of Address

While a case is pending with the AAO, representatives should inform the AAO directly of any address change to ensure that all decisions and correspondence are sent to the correct address.  Due to AAO record retention and privacy obligations, representatives should submit an individual change of address notification for each case before the AAO.  

Please fax or mail change of address notifications to the AAO. No special form is required. See Chapter 6.1 for the AAO’s contact information. 

The change of address notice should state the type of application or petition that is the subject of the appeal or motion, and reference any relevant Receipt Numbers and A-Numbers. 

2.5      Attorneys

An attorney must be eligible to practice law in, and be a member in good standing of the bar of, the highest court of any U.S. state, possession, territory, or Commonwealth, or of the District of Columbia.[31]

Attorneys exclusively admitted to the practice of law in countries other than the United States may represent individuals only in matters adjudicated in USCIS offices outside of the United States.[32]  The AAO cannot recognize representation by an attorney who is not eligible to practice law in the United States, even if the attorney was recognized during the initial adjudication by an overseas USCIS office.

In addition, an attorney cannot be under any order from the Board suspending, enjoining, restraining, disbarring, or otherwise restricting him or her in the practice of law.[33]  An attorney under any order of discipline (including orders of other federal bodies or state licensing authorities) may be subject to discipline by the Board, including the immediate suspension of a practitioner who has been disbarred or suspended by a federal or state court.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) maintains a List of Currently Disciplined Practitioners who are not authorized to practice before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Board, and the Immigration Courts.

(a)      Law Firms

Attorneys, not law firms, represent appellants.  Each attorney who is representing an appellant before the AAO should submit a separate Form G-28.  If an attorney leaves a law firm, he or she remains the attorney of record unless the attorney’s representation is withdrawn (e.g., through the submission of a new Form G-28 for a different attorney) or the attorney is no longer eligible to practice before DHS.  See Chapter 2.8 for more information about withdrawal of representation.

(b)      Law Students and Law Graduates

A law student at an accredited U.S. law school may represent an appellant if the law student is participating in a legal aid program or clinic conducted by a law school or non-profit organization, and is under the direct supervision of a faculty member, licensed attorney, or accredited representative.[34]  The law student cannot receive any direct or indirect compensation from the appellant.

A graduate of an accredited U.S. law school who has not been admitted to the bar may represent an appellant if the graduate is under the supervision of a licensed attorney or accredited representative and does not receive any direct or indirect compensation from the appellant.[35]

A law student or a law graduate may appear before a DHS official if that official grants permission.[36]

2.6      Accredited Representatives

An accredited representative is a person who:[37]

  • Represents an organization that the Board has recognized; and
  • Has been accredited by the Board to represent others in immigration proceedings.

Certain nonprofit religious, charitable, social service, and similar organizations may apply for Board recognition.  An organization must establish that its fees are nominal and that it has adequate immigration law knowledge and experience.

Board recognition of an organization does not mean that any employee of that organization is an accredited representative.  A recognized organization must still apply for accreditation on behalf of each individual representative.  The accreditation of a representative is valid for three years.  Individuals lose their accreditation once they are no longer employed by or otherwise connected with the recognized organization.[38]

EOIR maintains a list of recognized organizations and accredited representatives on its website at Accredited representatives listed by EOIR as “partially accredited” are only authorized to practice before DHS.  Accredited representatives listed by EOIR as “fully accredited” may practice before both DHS and EOIR.

2.7      Ineligible Representatives

If the AAO determines that the representative who signed the Form I-290B for an appeal or motion was ineligible to represent an appellant at the time of filing, the AAO may reject or dismiss the appeal or deny the motion as improperly filed.[39]  However, if the appellant signed the Form I-290B, the AAO may proceed as if the appellant was self-represented.[40]

If an attorney or accredited representative becomes ineligible to represent a party after filing an appeal or motion, the AAO will consider the appellant to be self-represented until a new Form G-28 is submitted for an eligible attorney or accredited representative.

2.8      Withdrawal of Representation

Appellants may request the withdrawal of a representative’s appearance on their behalf, and representatives may request to withdraw their representation of an appellant.  If the AAO authorizes a withdrawal, it will no longer communicate with the representative about the matter.  The AAO will treat the appellant as self-represented until the submission of a new Form G-28 for a new representative.[41]

For cases before the AAO, withdrawal of representation requests must be in writing and sent by mail or fax.  No special form is required.  The written request should identify the appellant and the representative being released.  The withdrawal request should also identify the immigration benefit request by Receipt Number and any related A-Number.  See Chapter 6.1 for the AAO’s contact information.

2.9      Change of Representation

Appellants wishing to replace their representative of record must submit a new Form G-28.  Recognition of the new representative also accomplishes the withdrawal of the former representative.

2.10    Rules of Professional Conduct

Attorneys and accredited representatives must represent their clients in accordance with the law, including applicable rules of professional conduct.[42]  Under these rules, attorneys and accredited representatives may be disciplined for criminal, unethical, or unprofessional conduct.[43]

Any individual who believes that an attorney or accredited representative has engaged in criminal, unethical, or unprofessional conduct while practicing before DHS may file a complaint with the USCIS Disciplinary Counsel.[44]  The complaint must be in writing and include relevant names, dates, locations, and other details sufficient to clearly identify the offending conduct.  The AAO encourages appellants to use Form EOIR-44 (PDF) to file a complaint and include any supporting documents or information.

Please mail complaints about an attorney’s or accredited representative’s conduct in a matter before DHS to:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
ATTN: Disciplinary Counsel
11411 East Jefferson Avenue
Detroit, MI  48214  

The USCIS Disciplinary Counsel may initiate formal disciplinary proceedings, which can result in censuring, suspending, or disbarring an attorney or accredited representative from practicing before the Immigration Courts, the Board, and DHS.  The USCIS Disciplinary Counsel may also refer complaints about unethical or unprofessional conduct to the appropriate state licensing authorities.

For more information about the discipline of attorneys and accredited representatives, see EOIR’s Attorney Discipline Program webpage.


[18] [^] A person or entity with legal standing in a proceeding is an “affected party.”  8 C.F.R. § 103.3(a)(1)(iii)(B).  For simplicity, this Practice Manual refers to all affected parties as “appellants.”  See Chapter 3.7(a) for more information about persons or entities eligible to file an appeal.

[19] [^] This Practice Manual uses the term “representative” to refer to all persons authorized to represent appellants before the AAO.  A self-represented appellant is sometimes referred to as pro se.

[20] [^] An “accredited representative” is an individual who has been accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (the Board) to represent others in immigration proceedings. See Chapter 2.6 for more information about accredited representatives.

[21] [^] 8 C.F.R. § 292.1(a)(2).

[22] [^] See 8 C.F.R. § 292.1(a)(3) for more information on reputable individuals.

[23] [^] 8 C.F.R. § 103.3(a)(1)(iii)(B).

[24] [^] 8 C.F.R. §§ 103.2(a)(3), 103.3(a)(1)(iii)(B).

[25] [^] 8 C.F.R. §§ 103.3(a)(2)(v)(A), 103.5(a)(1)(iii)(A).

[26] [^] 8 C.F.R. §§ 103.3(a)(2)(v)(A)(2), 292.4(a); see also Form G-28 instructions (PDF, 206.86 KB).

[27] [^] See 8 C.F.R. § 292.4(a).

[28] [^] Id.  See Chapter 2.7 for more information about ineligible representatives.

[29] [^] 8 C.F.R. §§ 103.3(a)(1)(x), 292.5.

[30] [^] For VAWA, T visa, and U visa cases before the AAO that contain a valid Form G-28, the AAO will send all correspondence, including its final decision, to the appellant "in care of" the representative.

[31] [^] 8 C.F.R. § 1.2.         

[32] [^] See 8 C.F.R. § 292.1(a)(6); Form G-28 instructions (PDF, 206.86 KB).

[33] [^] 8 C.F.R. § 1.2.

[34] [^] 8 C.F.R. § 292.1(a)(2).

[35] [^] Id.

[36] [^] 8 C.F.R. § 292.1(a)(2)(iv); see also Form G-28 instructions (PDF, 206.86 KB).

[37] [^] 8 C.F.R. §§ 292.1(a)(4), 292.2.

[38] [^] 8 C.F.R. § 292.2(d).

[39] [^] 8 C.F.R. §§ 103.3(a)(2)(v)(A)(1), 103.5(a)(4).

[40] [^] 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(a)(3).

[41] [^] See 8 C.F.R. § 292.4(a).

[42] [^] See 8 C.F.R. § 292.3.

[43] [^] EOIR oversees the discipline of attorneys and accredited representatives who violate rules of professional conduct in practice before the Immigration Courts, DHS, and the Board.

[44] [^] See 8 C.F.R. § 292.3(d)(1).