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Are You a Foreign Worker on a Visa? Lawyer Up!

Executive Search
New York, United States
INFLUENCER: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, writes Sasha the Mensch's Sasha Martens

Changes to immigration policy abound worldwide. Many countries have made the requirements to obtain or renew a work visa more difficult or different than before. Keeping up on the changes and the implications for you, whether you are trying to move to a new country or simply stay where you are, is complicated and worthy of consulting an appropriate attorney or legal advocate.

It is human nature not to want to deal with a problem unless it is in front of you. But in the infamous words of Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

With this in mind, I would urge anyone on a work visa, regardless of your location, to consult an immigration lawyer. Even if you have no immediate pressing need. Here are some illustrations of why.

Employment can be a fickle thing. Your employment status may unexpectedly change, and you may not have much time to take appropriate legal action in order to stay where you are. The most profound consequence of this is that you may be forced to leave your country of residence quickly, putting you and potentially your family into a time of great uncertainty and upheaval. This is especially true if you harbour the desire to stay in a country long term or choose to pursue permanent residency.

This past Christmas, a top creative agency lost a major piece of business and was forced to reduce staff, resulting in a senior creative director losing his job. He was both unaware of the time pressure he faced to find new employment due to visa regulations and unable to move quickly on finding that new job due to the holiday season. This situation is not uncommon and in this case was compounded by the fact that he relied on friends for advice, leading him down an inefficient path. Had he the knowledge and consult of a good immigration attorney, he may have been able to pursue other options. Instead, he was forced to leave the country in the middle of a job search.

In a similar situation, I met a senior account director who had transferred internally within her company from Russia to New York and after three years the company laid her off. She was unaware that the visa she was on did not allow her to apply for other jobs while she was in the United States. Had she spoken with a lawyer regularly, she may have been able to apply for a green card when she first arrived and been granted the ability to stay. Once she was laid off, and without other status, she had to leave.

I also spoke with a creative director from Europe who was legally working in the United States. He has a tremendous pedigree in the advertising industry and the awards to prove it. Yet, when he applied for a green card, his initial application was returned with a demand for more evidence demonstrating his unique skill set. Had he consulted with a qualified attorney, the process would have gone smoothly and with few delays; lesser qualified candidates have succeeded in obtaining green cards with the assistance of an immigration attorney. Importantly, don’t wait until you are ready to apply for the green card to consult an attorney. An expert may be able to help you begin to properly document your work history so you are prepared to act when the time is right.

It is well known that in the United States the visa process has become more demanding. According to the San Diego Tribune guest worker visa denials have quadrupled since 2015 and Forbes noted that processing times for some has increased 46% in the past two years.

Knowledge is power. Even if you feel secure with your status and job, an immigration lawyer can educate you about what you can do in the event you do lose your job, are transferring, or are seeking a different status. It’s also important to remember that your current employer is not obligated to assist you in many of these situations. Don’t rely too much on them but do keep yourself informed on what they are doing and why. Employers also may not be motivated to make the process fast or efficient.

Finally, make sure you find a good immigration expert. While asking your friends for immigration guidance is ill-advised, asking for referrals for a good attorney is not. In my experience, smaller boutique firms tend to provide better and more personal service than large corporations. The lawyers in smaller firms are more hands-on and pay better attention to the details. A good visa application is all about the details, and sometimes these details can be lost when larger firms outsource work.

Finally, if you can find someone local that you can meet personally, it can, at the very least, add a level of comfort to a process that can profoundly impact your future. Either way, don’t wait until there is a crisis to get educated about immigration laws and compliance. It can mean the difference between a career-defining moment that leads you to your dream job or a panicked push that takes you back to somewhere you don’t want to be. 

Sasha Martens is president of Sasha the Mensch

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