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Visa Crackdown Boosts Job Market for Immigration Lawyers

Sept. 28, 2018, 10:20 AM

The job market for immigration lawyers is heating up as employers turn to law firms for help navigating the increasingly tricky process of bringing in foreign workers, several lawyers and legal recruiters told Bloomberg Law.

“Securing work visas for highly-skilled workers is much harder than it was two years ago,” according to Ian R. Macdonald, co-chair of Greenberg Traurig’s business immigration practice. A growth in immigration-related legal work is “an unforeseen benefit of the Trump administration,” he told Bloomberg Law.

Tough immigration enforcement was one of President Donald Trump’s most notable campaign promises.

“The government is requiring employers to submit evidence with greater specificity than ever encountered before. This has slowed the process. It has increased the cost,” Henry “Buzz” Burwell, co-leader of the international practice group at Nelson Mullins, told Bloomberg Law. “The net of it is that law firms are struggling to find immigration lawyers with experience.”

Lawyers Needed for H-1B Visa Surge

“A surge in visa applications, particularly H-1B visas,” seems to be fueling the demand, Jamy Sullivan, executive director of staffing firm Robert Half Legal, told Bloomberg Law. “As the policies and procedures have changed with the new administration, simultaneously we started to see the uptick,” she said.

H-1B visas allow employers to bring in highly educated foreign professionals to work in specialty occupations like mathematics, engineering, and technology. Foreign nationals who petition for an H-1B visa must have a job offer from a U.S. employer, and the Labor Department must certify that a U.S. citizen can’t be found to fill the role.

Trump issued an executive order in April 2017 directing the Department of Homeland Security to help ensure that only the most-skilled or highest-paid workers receive H-1B visas. Since then, DHS’ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services increased both the requests for evidence and the denials of H-1B petitions, the National Foundation for American Policy reported.

The NFAP said the denial rate for H-1B petitions rose from 15.9 percent in the third quarter of fiscal year 2017 to 22.4 percent in the fourth quarter, based on data it obtained from USCIS.

Alston & Bird saw requests for evidence go from 5 percent to 55 percent in the past two years, Eileen Scofield, the head of the firm’s immigration practice group, told Bloomberg Law.

“The case preparation is more time-consuming now” for H-1B visa petitions because of “the additional requests for evidence and the additional denials,” according to Dawn Lurie, a senior counsel at Seyfarth Shaw and co-chair of the firm’s immigration and compliance group.

Midlevel Associates With Language Skills Golden

Law firms are particularly seeking midlevel associates with three to five years of immigration experience, Sullivan said. Multilingual lawyers are particularly prized, she said.

Jobs for immigration lawyers are plentiful in Atlanta and the Southeast, Detroit, Miami, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Texas, and Washington, D.C., legal recruiters and immigration attorneys told Bloomberg Law.

More stringent enforcement will create the need for immigration lawyers who specialize in litigation as well as those who specialize in compliance, Lurie predicted.

“Companies are more willing to talk about litigating” as “their business models are being impacted” by their inability to import personnel from other countries, she said.

Big Law Firms Get Involved

The type of law firms searching for immigration attorneys also may be expanding. Boutique law firms often handle immigration matters, but more of the bigger law firms are looking to create this practice or expand it “as an added service to their already-existing client base,” Shannon Murphy told Bloomberg Law. Murphy is a managing director for legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa in Chicago.

As the work piles up, some law firms are turning to paralegals to fill the gap, Murphy said. “Some of these firms have developed proprietary software” that assists their staff in processing visa applications, she said.

“You don’t need the cost of an attorney when there are technological advances that can help with these practices,” Murphy said.

The government’s increasing scrutiny of H-1B visas ensures a continuing need for immigration lawyers, however.

“Our requests for evidence in the past were more generic and could be handled by a paralegal,” Mahsa Aliaskari, a senior immigration counsel at Seyfarth Shaw, told Bloomberg Law. The evidence requests have become more complex in the past six months, often requiring the attention of a lawyer, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington at gcinquegrani@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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