When Attorney Thal was pursuing an undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota, he, along with his wife, indulged in different activities. They were a part of the University’s International Student Advisor’s Office and the nonprofits Minnesota International Centre (now Global Minnesota), which prepared them to deal with different immigration issues and played a vital role in opening their minds to different worldviews. And this was just the beginning. After graduation, the duo spent two years serving the rural community of Puerto Limón, Ecuador, South America. This experience inspired the Thals to sponsor two students to stay with them in the U.S. They filed visa applications for the students, attended consular interviews abroad, and succeeded in obtaining the F-1 student visas through their sponsorship. This was the first immigration work that Attorney Thal did, and ever since, he has helped many international students.
Having such a vast experience and the exposure to interact with different people, Attorney Thal realized that thousands of people across the globe seek for a voice to tell their stories. This ultimately propelled him to lay the foundation of his law firm, Steven C. Thal, P.A., in 1988. The firm has become one of the leading immigration law firms assisting clients around the globe, across the U.S. and throughout the Midwest, including Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.
In an interview with Manage HR, Attorney Thal talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the immigration industry and how his law firm has strategically positioned itself to help clients.
How has the pandemic impacted the Immigration landscape?
The onset of COVID-19 primarily impacted three integral components of the immigration industry: attorneys, immigration courts, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). One of the major challenges that we came across pertains to the work location. With many immigration offices either closed or following the work from home policy, the immigration process either came to a halt or got delayed. Also, as the travel restrictions were lifted a little, many people moved to other places. Following the COVID-19 guidelines, USCIS also implemented safety policies that include screening, temperature monitoring, checking for symptoms, and other routines. This could impact someone’s in-person interview process.
Similarly, immigration courts have also seen several changes as a result of the pandemic. Some of the courts were shut down, which led to the delay in hearings and affected one’s ability to seek resolution of their case.
COVID-19 also brought in positive changes. USCIS implemented a rule for interpreters, enabling them to follow the work from home policy. As such, it became easier for attorneys to participate in interviews. For example, I participated in telephonic interviews with clients from Baltimore, Omaha, Fargo, Los Angeles, and Memphis. In addition to this, USCIS also made accommodations for attorneys that allowed easier participation with clients.
In the wake of COVID-19, courts also modernized their methods through the introduction of the concept of electronic filling, and in the near future, we may anticipate hearings through video conferencing.
The success of our firm is grounded not just in moving people across borders, but rather in uniting families, giving immigrants the ability to create jobs and thrive, saving people from persecution, creating valued relationships for employees and employers, and assimilating permanent residents into full-fledged citizens
Aligning to the COVID-19 guidelines was easy for us as we were already accustomed to a work-from-home environment even before the pandemic. Our staff was able to access all the work information from their home, and we successfully served our clients through Zoom calls, Skype, FaceTime, and telephonic conferences.
One of the enormous changes has been on the administration side. In January 2021, we saw a number of Trump executive orders rescinded by President Biden. As the new policy changes were rolling out, we put in our best efforts to constantly update our staff and clients. We educated our clients about the changes, allowing them to better position themselves for their immigration status. We share weekly updates on Facebook and on our website regarding any new immigration policies.
We are also keeping a close eye on the pending legislation in Congress. Recently, two bills were passed in the House of Representatives. The first one was to assist the dreamers—those who came to the U.S. at a young age and fall under the Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) policy. The other bill had a provision to benefit agricultural workers. We are expecting more reforms to come. As long as immigration remains a hot topic, it will be an area where we not only serve our clients but also advocate for changes.
Could you cite a client success story?
A few months ago, I was contacted by a family law attorney who had adopted a child. The child was from Sierra Leone and underwent some terrible abuse in his home country. Unfortunately, the adoption was done after the age of 16 years with the result that it would not be recognized for immigration purposes.
We resolved the situation favorably, even though the adoption did not confer any immigration benefit. We filed a Special Immigrant Juvenile Petition that states the need for a child to seek protection in the United States. In this case, we obtained the necessary findings in a Juvenile Court Order, which provided that it is in the child’s best interest to remain in the United States where the child has suffered abuse or neglect within his own country. The petition got approved last October, and the green card arrived in March.
What are some of the key differentiating factors that keep your law firm a notch above the rest?
Undeniably, a key component of our success is our dedicated and hardworking staff. Many of them are immigrants from different parts of the world, including Mexico, Peru, Chile, and others. They know what our clients are facing and have the innate ability to serve clients from different parts of the world. Our team exercises empathy and concern for clients while handling their cases. In fact, they often develop good and strong relationships with clients, which further translates to getting many repeat clients and referrals.
What does the future hold for Steven C. Thal, P.A.?
As the world is slowly and steadily transitioning to the “new normal”, we are looking forward to increasing our business with the pending legislation. Along with this, we also hope to see an influx of positive policy changes that will be favorable for immigration under the current administration. We truly hope that the Dream Act or relief for those who hold DACA will become a reality soon.
Over the years, I have realized that immigration reform is a massive challenge for Congress. But there is an immense need for changes in the immigration laws. We will continue to advocate for those changes until Congress recognizes the need to improve the current immigration system. I think we are finally moving in a positive direction, and we are ready to assist clients when these changes come.