A motion to reopen is a step that can be taken in order to request a review of a legal decision that a lawyer feels was reached in error. These motions most commonly come up in the context of immigration law, where lawyers can file such motions to ask that a denial be reviewed. There are a number of reasons why a lawyer might opt to file such a motion instead of an appeal.
In a motion to reopen, the original source of the decision is asked to review the information again. During the consideration and reexamination process, it is hoped that the decision will be reversed. The motion must explain why such review is necessary and provide documentary evidence that will assist with the review process. Simply stating that the decision seems incorrect, for example, does not provide enough information.
One reason to file a motion to reopen is a belief that law or policy were applied or interpreted incorrectly in the case at hand. For example, if a visa to a guest worker is denied on the grounds that the guest worker would not be providing a specialized service, the motion might argue that in fact the worker should receive a visa because the service is unique or specialized. The lawyer can also argue that the facts provided at the time the decision was made were not sufficient to reach a denial and provide more facts that can be evaluated to decide whether or not the denial should be reversed.
This appeal alternative triggers a review procedure at the level the original decision was made, unlike an appeal, in which a higher authority is brought into the case to review the situation. The motion must generally be filed in a timely fashion, such as within 30 days of the decision in dispute, and the subject usually has a short time period in which to comply. This can bring the turnaround time on the review to less than three months, unlike appeals, which can drag on much longer.
Filing a motion to reopen does not necessarily mean that an appeal cannot be filed later. It is simply one option available in the legal toolbox to fight a decision that does not favor the client. The procedures for filing vary, depending on the nature of the situation. Lawyers are familiar with the process so that they can step quickly into action in the event that a motion is needed.