Carlos Batara – Immigration Lawyer header image

When Do You Need A Lawyer To Write An I-601 Hardship Letter?




“I was told to write a hardship letter to keep my wife from being deported. I need it for a family unity waiver. My nephew helped me write my hardship letter. He is in college. It has about 10 – 15 pages of evidence. The legal assistant helping us prepare the forms thinks this is good enough. But one of my friends heard some bad news stories about these letters. He said I should double-check with an attorney. I’m confused.”

(Submitted by William L., Highland, CA)


Without knowing more about your wife’s situation, I cannot say with 100% certainty that she needs a lawyer. However, in general, I believe proving hardship is too difficult for most immigrants to try to do on their own.

The risks are high, especially since your wife is hoping to become a lawful permanent resident. You do not want to take unnecessary chances.

Moreover, I think those who call what you write a mere letter perform a disservice.  You must write a compelling statement.  A few general sentences will not suffice.

What Is The Purpose Of A Hardship Letter?

I think your friend gave you good advice. Far too many times, I have been asked by immigrants to help them with preparing an immigration hardship letter.

Unfortunately, in my efforts to help immigrants and their spouses win permanent residence, I have learned an ugly truth.  Many clients do not understand the crucial role of a hardship letter in waiver cases.

They have been told perhaps by relatives, as well as by legal assistants, by notaries that a simple letter discussing their family situation, along with a few documents like birth and marriage certificates, is sufficient to prove hardship.

In almost all cases, this is bad advice.

Sure, the hardship letter is important.

If completed properly, it serves as a cover letter which outlines and explains the main issues that you and your spouse want immigration officials to know about when they decide her case. Such letters are usually several pages long.

Each issue you mention in the letter should be backed up by materials in the waiver packet sent to USCIS.

By submitting good, solid supporting evidence, it helps to prove you’re not making up false arguments simply to win an immigration waiver for your spouse.

Why Writing A Mere Hardship Letter
Is Not Sufficient For Victory

However, this means the terminology, “immigration hardship letter,” is misleading.

A hardship letter is not truly a letter.  It is a powerful statement of the couple’s story why they are inseparable.

You really need to compose an immigration hardship story and back it up with a strong supporting evidence packet.

The packet should include not only a detailed “letter”, but also evidence which proves why your request for a hardship waiver should be granted.

This is why taking a letter approach is deficient.  Your story must be done in an accurate and comprehensive manner.  This allows officers to fully understand the merits of your family’s situation.

As a result, in my opinion, there is a strong possibility that the 10 – 15 pages of evidence you have put together will not be enough to win your wife’s case.

Too often, anyone who says they are helping you – yet only provide such limited guidance – should be avoided.  This is a one reason why I feel clients should just say no to notarios and non-attorney legal assistants for difficult matters like family unity waivers.

Before closing, I’d like to talk about hardship.

After all, you have to demonstrate extreme hardship to win a waiver for your spouse.

Hardship is one of the toughest rules in immigration. There is no precise definition.

It means how much and what type of suffering will the sponsoring family member – that’s you – experience if their immigrant spouse is not allowed to live in the United States.

You should address the pain and suffering to be experienced by all of the immigrant’s I-601 quaifying relatives.  And this, alone, is a reason you should not write the letter without professional assistance.

Has the legal assistant explained the differences between direct and indirect hardship?

Probably not.

There are many components that go into writing and describing the full hardship of your family necessary to win I-601 waivers.

Every family will incur some loss if a family member, especially an adult spouse and parent, is separated from them. Yet, the law says ordinary hardship is not enough to win. Worse, both judges and immigration officers feel most immigrants will only suffer ordinary hardship.

Personally, I do not agree with logic. Still, this is the law.

This is why the evidence you prepare, along with the hardship letter explaining what the evidence shows, is critical to winning your wife’s waiver.

Some immigrants, writing for themselves, rush through the process and do not take time to figure out the most important hardship issues. Others spend time studying what to address, but they exaggerate their situations. Both are bad ways to approach drafting a waiver letter.

No two cases are the same. Sometimes you need to address many issues about your family situation. Other times, only 2 – 3 concerns are necessary.

If you can figure out what issues to focus on, and you know how to effectively assemble your evidence, then you don’t need an immigration lawyer’s help.

Otherwise, it is probably in the best interests of your family to seek an immigration waiver attorney to assist and guide you.

If you have an ongoing case right now, and you have immediate case-specific questions, you may want to visit our Green Cards And Permanent Residence Attorney Services page for more information.

Or you might want to schedule a 1-On-1 Personalized Strategy And Planning Session to discuss the ins and outs of your case in depth.