Immigration: Not Just a Nanny Problem

Mention of green cards and visa issues may conjure up images of gardeners and cleaning ladies, but immigration is just as much a way of life for business people who need to relocate. Thanks to the globalization of the economy and the pressing needs of multi-national corporations for skilled employees from every part of the globe, professionals in boardrooms and C-suites throughout the world are hiring immigration lawyers.

“Today, people are moving across borders like people once moved across state lines,” says Michael Patrick, a partner at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy in New York City. “The United States is a magnet for immigrants at every level.”

No matter their socioeconomic status, foreign nationals face a drawn-out process for obtaining permission to work and live here. Of course, some folks simply overstay their tourist visas and join an underground economy.

Especially at upper echelons, ignoring whether someone is in the country legally can be a dicey proposition. Employers could be fined, and illegal aliens could be sent back to their country of origin. That’s not the kind of risk a foreign professional wants to take. “For the most part, business people don’t want to be messing around with an immigration judge or a deportation hearing,” observes Ted Chiappari, a partner at Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke in New York City.

The options available depend upon any number of variables. Some foreigners hope to stay permanently; others just want to work here for a few years. To what extent they can do either depends, in some measure, on the skills of an immigration lawyer. There’s an alphabet soup of visas covering different stretches of time and presenting thickets of bureaucratic requirement. An executive might get one sort of visa but the spouse and kids will probably need other types, explains Robert Gottfried, a partner at Hodgson Russ in New York City.

The procedures for getting the appropriate visa frequently shift. While one consulate might require a proof-of-employment letter, another might require that it be notarized. The entire process “can be disruptive and upsetting, even for someone with a straightforward case,” says Chiappari. An immigration lawyer can at least try to minimize the unknowns.

The United States is a magnet for immigrants at every level.

That’s not easy, of course, since crossing the border got harder after September 11. With tightened restrictions and the Immigration and Naturalization Service now folded into the Department of Homeland Security, the layers of approvals now needed to gain legal entry got just that much thicker. Nowadays, “we work with the Department of Homeland Security, the Labor Department, and the State Department” on immigration matters, explains Gottfried.

Skilled employees in certain professions and industries can expect even closer scrutiny. “Foreign nationals coming here to work on sophisticated technological matters are subject to additional clearances,” says Marcia Needleman, a partner at Levitt & Needleman in New York City.

Obtaining permission to work here can be just as tricky for a famous person. “Most people think if you are famous, you just come and go [without any difficulty],” says Mark Koestler, a partner at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel in New York City. But foreign movie stars need the right immigration papers, too.

Rank-and-file corporate joes are particularly likely to be in need of immigration assistance. “Companies are moving people with more frequency,” Patrick says, and with that increased mobility come visa hassles.

Immigration, as newsworthy as the subject has been, touches most of us in terms of who we really are as Americans. “We’re all from somewhere else,” Gottfried says. Indeed, our own symbol of hope for immigrants—the Statue of Liberty—wasn’t even born here but is a product of France.

Guess she had a good lawyer.

Immigration: Not Just a Nanny Problem