Kathleen Campbell Walker, Member and Immigration Practice Group Co-Chair, Dickinson Wright PllcKathleen Campbell Walker, Member and Immigration Practice Group Co-Chair
Continuous change and political policy swings are common for businesses addressing U.S. immigration law. This lack of predictability amplifies the challenges of any business planning for the global mobility of a workforce and potential investment. It is not unusual for Canada and other countries to benefit from attracting international talent deterred by the U.S. immigration morass.

However, the U.S. is reliant on immigrants. Since 2000, immigrants have been awarded 37 of the 100 Nobel Prizes won by Americans in chemistry, medicine, and physics, according to a new analysis of the National Foundation for American Policy. Immigrants also constituted 17 percent (28.6 million) of the civilian labor force in the U.S. (166.3 million) in 2019. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the U.S. is the largest recipient of foreign direct investment globally, which in 2018 supported approximately 7.8 million jobs and $66.9 billion in innovative research and development.

During the Trump administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented policies that negatively impacted its revenue and efficiency and resulted in massive processing time increases. In addition, closures and limited visa processing services at U.S. consular posts due to the pandemic resulted in a lockdown on global mobility. Due to many policy changes and executive orders implemented by the U.S., it is losing ground in the worldwide competition for investment and highly skilled talent, including science and technology experts.

At times like these, international companies and highly skilled workers and investors need the assistance of a law firm that has a greater depth of knowledge and experience with the whirlwind of immigration changes to develop the most effective strategies and solutions. Dickinson Wright offers an unusual depth of bench strength among immigration firms with an established history of services to many multinational clients of over twenty years. The immigration lawyers with Dickinson Wright have been engaged in professional organization work at multiple levels addressing immigration policy challenges and supporting changes to improve efficiencies and predictability in the process. In addition, due to the international teams of lawyers available within Dickinson Wright, they offer creative solutions combining the consideration of a variety of legal issues such as corporate, tax, real estate, intellectual property, securities, criminal, customs, gaming, cannabis, and litigation.

While conversing with the Manage HR's editorial team, Kathleen Campbell Walker, Member and Immigration Practice Group Co-Chair at Dickinson Wright, shares her insights on how the company leverages its expertise and experience to provide reliable and efficient immigration services to its clients. Kathleen has served as national president and general counsel of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). She also serves on AILA’s board of governors.

Could you give us a brief overview of Dickinson Wright?

Founded in 1878, Dickinson Wright is a leading law firm that has a physical presence in over 18 locations, with offices in Toronto and Chicago. The firm’s prominent position is a result of our dedicated team of over 500 lawyers and their support staff, which has a persistent focus on providing exceptional services and legal advice to clients. In addition, the firm has dedicated international service teams for a variety of regions, including Japan, China, Canada, Mexico, and India.

We are proactive, flexible, and agile to align with legal and policy changes in a way that benefits our clients to the highest level possible

The group is dedicated to being proactive leaders in the field of immigration. We are accessible as well as focused on the delivery of the best value to every client engagement. Our customer base encompasses Fortune 500 companies, small and medium businesses, governmental entities, investors, and individuals. We are also well recognized for ensuring the privacy and protection of our clients’ data. In 2016, Dickinson Wright became one of the first law firms in the world to achieve privacy management ISO/ISE 27701:2019 certification.
Our immigration expert attorneys are based in five office locations, including Toronto, Ann Arbor, Troy, Phoenix, and El Paso. The immigration attorneys at Dickinson Wright are respected by their peers, honored by industry endorsements, chosen for national and international speaking engagements, and recognized through significant leadership appointments to the bar, professional, government committees, and trade associations.

What are some of the key challenges that impede immigration practices in the U.S.?

As noted above, some of the current challenges to the practice of immigration law are lack of predictability in timing or process, backlogs in visa processing created due to consular closures and limited operations during the pandemic, and restrictions imposed on entry to the U.S. during the pandemic. Businesses have faced numerous unprecedented challenges to obtain visas and entry to the U.S., as well as significant delays in applications submitted to USCIS.

What this means is that immigration lawyers have been tasked to the limit of finding creative strategies and solutions in this ever-changing landscape. Effective representation requires up to the minute focus on policy and practical changes on the ground. In addition, the attorney must divine a path among conflicting agency rules and procedure of the Department of State, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and USCIS. As to worksite enforcement and Form I-9 audits, companies have benefitted from some flexible policies due to the pandemic, but the follow-up required post the termination of these flexible policies has presented an abundance of process dilemmas and deadlines for employers.

What are some of the factors that differentiate Dickinson Wright from its competitors?

The Immigration Group at Dickinson Wright is a part of the firm allowing a comprehensive approach to immigration challenges due to the firm's numerous practice areas that complement international client demands. The senior attorneys within the group show a track record of creating a proactive long-term service partnership with their clients. During unprecedented times, we offer a rare combination of talent and experience to determine effective strategies and solutions. Our strategies benefit from a multitude of international and business practice areas within the firm.

We also have various technologies we use to tailor a support team and process to each client. Our proprietary share vision pages give clients access to updates on immigration law and policies as well as links to recordings and charts on a variety of immigration-related strategies and processes. This approach helps them gain access to more reliable information directly from authorities rather than scrolling through hundreds of web pages.

In a nutshell, we are proactive, flexible, and agile to align with a fluid environment that benefits our clients. For example, due to changing presidential proclamations resulting from COVID-19, we have transitioned clients to several different nonimmigrant options to reduce complications and delays. In addition, we have prepared employer policy guidance to address pandemic-based flexibilities and updated clients via blog posts on issues of concern, and have created employee rolling FAQS for continuing challenges.

How does the future look for Dickinson Wright?
Immigration services are just the tip of the iceberg. Our service portfolio includes several other areas such as administrative and regulatory, banking and finance, government contracts, intellectual property, and securities, to name a few. We also have a group that focuses on white-collar crime, enforcement, and security, which, in turn, helps in providing more comprehensive solutions to immigration challenges.

Moving ahead, our primary goal is to serve as a trusted advisor for our clients and establish long-term relationships with them. Unlike many of our competitors, we treat our clients as business partners and tailor strategies and solutions to their specific preferences. We know one size does not fit all. We are also constantly monitoring policy changes and aligning our strategies effectively and timely with those shifts to serve our clients better. As a customer-first company, we keep our clients' needs at the forefront and continuously augment our capabilities to provide the best possible results for them.