Which therapists are eligible to do immigration evaluations?
This answer is a bit complex, and it may vary state-by-state. Licenses that immigration courts recognize as eligible in every state include: PsyD, PhD, and LCSW. There are also LMFTs and LPCs successfully doing evaluations throughout the country. (For instance, in California, the courts and licensing boards have confirmed that LMFTs are eligible to do these assessments.) However, to be on the safe side, if you're a Masters-level clinician (other than an LCSW), it's recommended that you check with your licensing board to verify that immigration courts in your state recognize your license as eligible to do these evaluations. You can also talk to other therapists in your state with your license who are doing these assessments, and make sure they've never had trouble being recognized as eligible by immigration courts. That being said, tons of LMFTs and LPCs from around the country have taken Georgia's workshops, and she's never heard of anyone having any trouble.
What exactly is an “immigration evaluation”?
An “immigration evaluation” refers to a mental health assessment that a therapist provides for an immigration case. Depending on the type of immigration case, the assessment will address various psychological aspects related to the legal needs in the case. For instance, an asylum seeker may have been persecuted in their home country and then fled to the United States. In order to be granted asylum, this person has to prove that they experienced life-threatening persecution in their home country (due to sexual orientation, political views, religious beliefs, etc.). Most often, someone doesn't have physical scars from what they went through, they have emotional scars. A therapist can do an assessment and make these "invisible" emotional scars visible, by documenting any PTSD symptoms.
Why is an immigration assessment important?
The therapist’s psychological assessment provides critical evidence for the client’s immigration case, and often it’s THE deciding factor in whether or not a client’s family can stay together or whether a client can escape life-threatening circumstances in their home country. With all this on the line, it’s essential that therapists train with someone who’s very experienced in doing immigration assessments.
I already do mental health evaluations, why do I need a training?
A clinical assessment for an immigration case varies substantially from an assessment provided in a clinical context. Georgia's workshops focus on legal terminology and the legal nuances of each kind of immigration case. To be most effective, an immigration assessment needs to address the psychological aspects of numerous legal points and go beyond what would be covered in an assessment in a clinical setting.
Over the years, Georgia has done more than 100 assessments and worked closely with numerous immigration lawyers around the country. With their feedback she’s gotten the “inside scoop” about how to make evaluations as compelling and effective as possible. In the workshops, she provides you with everything she's learned-- plus, you'll get the detailed templates that she's developed, as well as interviewing questions, assessment scales and effective marketing tips!
What are the 3 types of immigration cases covered in the workshops?
The workshops cover the 3 most common immigration cases:
1) Asylum cases pertain to people who have recently fled from persecution in their home country and need safety and asylum in the US. Therapists can document the person’s trauma-related symptoms, and this helps prove they’re telling the truth about what they’ve been through.
2) Domestic violence (VAWA) cases pertain to an undocumented immigrant who’s been abused by their US citizen spouse. If the undocumented immigrant can prove they’ve been abused, then they can have the chance to self-petition for a green card. Therapists can document the signs of abuse and PTSD in order to provide evidence that the person is telling the truth about what they’ve been through.
3) Petitions for extreme hardship waivers pertain to a family living in the US, where at least one family member is a US citizen/resident and another family is undocumented. Therapists can assess how the US citizen family member would suffer extreme hardship if separated from their undocumented relative, and this helps show that the family needs to stay together.
How much do therapists charge to do an assessment?
The fees vary a great deal depending on the therapist, often from $500 to $1500, with most therapists charging around $1000 per assessment.
Can immigrants afford this?
One amazing thing about this work is that therapists can balance pro bono work with clients in need, as well as full-fee work with wealthier immigrants from around the world. Immigrants have a wide range of economic backgrounds, and clients who need assessments often come from countries such as Iran, Kenya, China, Armenia, and Thailand. Some of these clients may have PhDs or work as computer scientists, and they can easily afford a full-fee assessment. Other clients can pay the full fee, as long as therapists offer a payment plan. In this way, therapists can work with clients from a wide range of economic, educational, and cultural backgrounds.
Do I need to be bilingual?
No. While this is always a wonderful skillset for this kind of work, assessments can be done very effectively by working with an interpreter (which is what Georgia does for many cases).
How long does it take to do an assessment?
The length of time varies a great deal depending on the case. Georgia’s assessments are quite in-depth (generally 13-15 pages). Often, she spends 2 to 3 hours with the client and then 8-12 hours writing the report.
Will I need to go to court?
No, not necessarily. Most immigration cases don't even have a court component, because the cases are determined based on written documents submitted by the client's lawyer. Asylum cases do have a court component, but therapists are never mandated to go to court. There's no subpoena process; it's always optional. So, you get to decide what you're comfortable with and what your schedule can accommodate.
How do I get referrals?
Referrals most often come from immigration lawyers, and Georgia's workshops offer effective marketing techniques to help you quickly connect with immigration lawyers. It only takes connecting with a couple lawyers who like your work, in order to have very reliable and lucrative referral sources.
Do I need to already have a private practice or an office?
No, it’s not necessary to have a previously established private practice. Therapists don’t even need to have an office space, because they can interview a client at their lawyer’s office. Plus, during the COVID-19 crisis, it is recommended that therapists only meet with clients via telehealth.
(Just a reminder-- before beginning assessments, be sure to investigate guidelines for your state and/or license; find out whether you need to have malpractice insurance, an NPI number or any other provisions in place.)
Can I do evaluations via telehealth?
Yes, absolutely! Especially during the COVID-19 crisis, it is not recommended to meet with clients in-person, but rather to use video chat for the safety and health of all involved.