CLARIFYING Matter of American Paralegal Academy, Inc., 19 I. & N. Dec. 386 (BIA 1986), THE BIA HELD THAT IN ADJUDICATING AN APPLICATION FOR RECOGNITION AS A NON-PROFIT OR CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION PROVIDING LOW-COST OR FREE LEGAL REPRESENTATION PER 8 CFR § 1292.2(a), THE BOARD MAKES AN INDIVIDUALIZED DETERMINATION AS TO WHETHER THE APPLICANT’S FEES QUALIFY AS “NOMINAL CHARGES” AND WHETHER ITS FEE STRUCTURE PROMOTES THE GOAL OF OFFERING COMPETENT, LOW-COST LEGAL SERVICES.
On November 20, 2014 the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), in ruling on an application it had received under 8 CFR § 1292.2(a), restated the rule that to achieve recognition, a nonprofit organization must prove it makes only “nominal charges”, assesses no excessive dues to those given assistance, and has at its disposal adequate knowledge, information and experience in immigration law and procedure. Noting that it had last discussed the issue of “nominal charges” in a 1986 precedent decision, Matter of American Paralegal Academy, Inc., where the overriding concern was that fees be consistent with the purpose and spirit of the recognition and accreditation program, the BIA found that since that ruling the need for immigration representation has increased but the availability of trustworthy low-cost and no-cost legal services has not. Given the “changing realities of immigration practice and client fees” and recognizing the wide variation in communities, missions and configurations of nonprofits, the Board held that an individualized assessment is now necessary to determine whether an applicant’s fee structure complies with the letter and spirit of the regulations. This circumstance-specific inquiry requires the applicant organization to prove that its fee structure is true to the goal of providing low-cost immigration legal services. Matter of Ayuda, 26 . I. & N. Dec. 449 (BIA 2014). Matter of American Paralegal Academy, Inc., I. & N. Dec. 386 (BIA 1986), clarified.