Last month, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Alan Olsen, Principal at the accounting firm Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen and Co., LLP. Alan is a CPA, but has many passions beyond numbers. One of his projects is “Alan Olsen’s American Dreams – Keys to Life’s Success”. American Dreams is an excellent resource for information on entrepreneurship, leadership, personal improvement and other best practices.
What does an immigration attorney do? “I think about the name of your show [Alan], ‘American Dreams’” says Jake Lipman, Attorney at Lipman & Wolf LLP. “That seems to be just about everything I’m doing every day- helping somebody obtain their American Dream. A big part of what we do is connect individuals with employers, since our law firm is quite a bit about employment based immigration and people coming for jobs that are needed here in the US.” Learn more on how immigration attorneys help individuals interested in working in the United States and why the EB-5 Visa is an attractive option to the wealthy families living abroad that want to come to the U.S.
Alan: Welcome back. I’m here today with Jake Lipman, from the Lipman and Wolf LLP, also known as Visa Wolf. They are immigration attorneys, here in the San Francisco Bay area. Jake, welcome to today’s show.
Jake: Hey thanks, it’s great to be here with you Alan.
Alan: Jake, give me your background, how you got to where you’re today.
Jake: Well, I’ve been an attorney for 15 years here in California. I think that I got interested in immigration partly by accident. I applied for a job when I was in law school to a local attorney here in the East Bay who had an immigration law practice going, he’s now my business partner. What surprised me when I went there was that I’d expected one kind of a thing when I envision what immigration meant and found something completely different.
Alan: I hear about immigration in the news. How does an immigration attorney help people?
Jake: Well, that’s a good question. I think of the name of your show here- ‘American Dreams’, right? And that seems to be what I’m doing just about every day is helping somebody obtain their American dream. A big part of what we do is connect individuals with employers since our law firm is quite a bit about employment-based immigration of people coming for jobs that are needed here in the US, skills that are needed and their talents. So, these are very qualified individuals largely that I work with, who bring something to the table in the US that we just can’t seem to produce enough of domestically. So, I help these individuals to make their mark and to make a name for themselves and get established in the United States and to fulfill that dream.
Alan: Typically, when a person comes over and uses your services, is it an employee or the employer?
Jake: So, our client is typically the employer. In some cases, an employee will reach out to us but in most companies that have any established kind of a regular immigration work, we work directly with the employers, and they’ll contact us to start a project when they need some new employee to come on-board that has an immigration issue.
Alan: Does it matter what country they are coming from when you’re doing immigration? Is there a favoritism towards some countries?
Jake: I’d say yes. For the most part it’s kind of a level playing field, but there are a few countries that enjoy more immigration options than others just because of mostly free trade agreements and things like that, that exist with certain countries. You would be surprised which ones enjoy those benefits because it doesn’t follow any kind of logic.
Alan: Give me an example.
Jake: For example, there are free trade agreements with Iran, but not with like New Zealand. Just the kind of things that don’t really make sense necessarily based on what you know politically but historically US had good relations with Iran back when the Shah was there and all those kinds of things. So, it kind of stems from historic relations that have existed. In some cases, from the very beginning of our country’s existence.
Alan: What’s the current economic climate for a person wanting to immigrate to this country with an H-1B visa?
Jake: So, H-1B visas are limited by number each year. A new H-1B visa can only be obtained in a fiscal year starting April 1st, and we file for those. And the worker might begin October 1st if they’re going to be part of the H-1B quota for that year. Last year, there were over, I believe, 120,000 H1B petitions filed for new workers and only 65,000 are permitted, with an additional 20,000 they allotted for people who obtained a Masters or higher degree here in the US. So 85,000 total but 120,000 were requested. So several people were rejected in that process.
Alan: So, it is not automatic?
Jake: There is no automatic there and it’s really frustrating for employers who need those critical skilled individuals to come and can’t make that happen within a year even.
Alan: You got any good, rewarding case stories about people you were able to get through?
Jake: Man, that’s every day we’re having a rewarding story. I’d say coming to mind, there’s usually a specific need and I’m trying to think of one right now that would interest you.
Alan: I’ll tell you what. We’re running up against a break and we need take a quick break. We’ll be right back after these messages. When we come back, I want to talk about the current state of politics and how this is affecting the immigration policy?
Jake: Sounds great.
Alan: We’ll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back. I’m here today with Jake Lipman, with Visawolf, an immigration attorney. Jake, before the break, I was asking about the most rewarding case. While there are many out there, does any one case come to mind?
Jake: I’m helping an individual right now and this is not from the employment side but occasionally we work with individuals who have more specific and urgent problems. This individual is from India and his family is part of a class that is sometimes persecuted there. So his parents were allowed to come into the country and because of his father’s military background, they were granted political asylum. The son was not included in their asylum application but is now subsequently applying and I have a meeting tomorrow in the immigration court to go and see if we can resolve this issue for him and get him included in his parents asylum application, he’s under 21 and still a dependent, under their responsibility. That should work out okay but that’s something that just comes to mind fresh and something that you know. I feel, again we’re talking about those dreams in helping this individual to secure a safe harbor here in the US, protected from the kinds of intolerance and problems that his type of people are facing in their home country.
Alan: I will also note for the listeners out there that our firm GROCO uses your services and we’ve had very good results.
Jake: Appreciate that.
Alan: I’m going to go to immigration reform. This is a politically charged phrase at the moment. I cut into partisan politics. Where do we stand at this very moment on immigration reform?
Jake: So, my feeling is that immigration reform is alive and well still. There’ve been some start-ups and kind of stall-outs, some things here that the Congress has been on recess, for the summer they take a break. Some people do take a break during the summer, so I’m told. They’ve come back, they’re in Session, they’re discussing and the various parties are at work on trying to reach some kind of an agreement still on Immigration Reform. I expect something will come out of that that’ll be some type of reform. What it looks like, hard to say and we can talk more about it if you’d like.
Alan: Do you have an opinion on what should be done?
Jake: Immigration for me is not a Left or a Right issue. I’m generally a pretty conservative person, I think, by comparison to others. But I don’t see that immigration falls into a Right or a Left kind of a spectrum. I think it is something that depending on where you sit personally, you have an opinion about it. Clearly, as a business owner, an Immigration professional, I care that this would pass, and would be a benefit to me in that way. But I can also see, from my own view of the economy, how things work and what I’ve seen with Immigration, and how it changes not just lives but how it improves the opportunities that exist out there for people to grow new companies, create new jobs. I think it’s something that would benefit our economy. And again, from that kind of conservative standpoint to me, fiscally in that way, I ultimately look at the economy as one of the major factors. It’s not just a touchy feely thing that I want to give a benefit to somebody because that’s what we should do but I think that it’ll really benefit our country and help the overall economy.
Alan: I’m visiting here today with Jake Lipman. He’s an Immigration Attorney with Lipman and Wolf, also known as VisaWolf, here in the Bay area. We need to take a break and we’ll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back. I’m here today with Jake Lipman, he’s an immigration attorney with Lipman and Wolf, also known as Visa Wolf, located in the San Francisco bay area. And you have another office at San Luis Obispo?
Jake: My business partner is working from San Luis Obispo and it’s a beautiful place. He’s from down there, so it’s working out nicely and is expanding our offering a bit.
Alan: Yeah. I guess when you go through the immigration process, everything is automated to the same office. Who issues these visas?
Jake: The Department of Homeland Security will authorize most of the visa processes that happen through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service which is USCIS. And then we also work with the Department of State who operate the consulates around the world where people actually go and apply for the visas once they’ve been approved by the immigration service here in the US. Then, we sometimes work with the Department of Labor. They have a section that is focused on foreign labor and so we touch that too.
Alan: Is there a tie between our education system and the immigration policies today?
Jake: I would say definitely, especially at the highest level, the university level. I’ve heard statistics that maybe half of the PhD candidates that are out there right now are foreign students which obviously has a tremendous impact on the research, types of associate professor positions and other types of opportunities that exist within education. And this is especially true in the Math and Science and the Technology areas. So, foreign presence in the educational system is a huge deal right now.
Alan: A student coming out of school, often times who wanna hang around in the US look for a job. So, just outline the rules, what can they do as a foreign student?
Jake: Most degree programs, when the student completes it, if the student is from outside the US, they will get a one-year optional practical training program and that lets them work within their discipline for up to a year typically. If they are from a Science, Technology, Mathematics, Engineering background, that’s called STEM, that’s the acronym for those types of focuses, then they can get an additional 17 months to work in the US and to develop their skills and maybe find an opportunity here. Like we talked about earlier, H1-B visas and their limitations, the numbers that are offered each year present that kind of a problem. Even if they do get a degree, there’s a chance they may not be able to secure that long-term position because the visas aren’t available.
Alan: A lot of people are going the other direction. For example, with India’s economy booming, a lot of people that had immigrated are now saying that hey,we’re gonna go back.
Jake: Absolutely. People here that had struggled to come and establish themselves, seeing the opportunities in their home countries and the wages being roughly equivalent, in at least the higher-level jobs, and even more opportunities in some cases are going back. The economy is booming, and the demand for jobs in places like Bangalore, India specifically, is like the Silicon Valley here in the late 1990s.
Alan: Jake, there are a lot of people that are coming, immigrating in, getting in the race of the visa and then they go back and say, now I want a green card. What exactly is the Green Card and how difficult is to get it?
Jake: That’s a great question. A green card is a permanent residency in the United States, it’s a visa to remain here as a resident which means you have to continue to reside most of your time in the US and abide by the laws and be a good person and things like that to maintain it. You can obtain a green card through employment through a three-step process. The first step is to get a clearance from the US Department of Labor. The employer needs to show that they tried to find a US worker that would’ve been qualified to do that job, but they didn’t find any in the local economy. And that somebody else, a foreign individual that they’ve found appears to meet those qualifications and is available. That process usually takes about six months to clear, may be little more, can take more in some cases, but that’s probably average. The next step is an immigrant visa petition. That’s where the employer has to show that they can afford to pay this individual, the foreign worker at a level that is commensurate with what you would pay a US worker and that they have the resources to do that. And then you also need to show that the candidate really has the credentials and is qualified to do that job at that point. So, that’s step two. Now between step two and step three is usually a long lag because there are quotas in the number of green cards given for employment each year. So the higher the skill level, typically you’ll see people whose job requires a Masters degree, they come in at a faster rate than the people whose jobs require less than a Masters degree and so on. The final step in some cases will not be allowed until the individual has reached the top of a waiting list to get a visa number through the quota system. And that can sometimes take 10 years or more. I have clients that are just now reaching the top of a waiting list that I’ve been working with, for like a decade.
Alan: Is there any way that people can jump to the federal line?
Jake: Not really. There’s no way to expedite it. They just got to take a seat and wait and sometimes they’re tied to that employer for multiple years like this while they’re waiting for the process to go through. The government has created some opportunities to support their green card process if they’ve reached a certain stage in the third and final step of the process, but for those people who just started steps one and two, it can be a long road and quite a long wait for them as they wait for their Green Cards.
Alan: How much is the legal fees involved in the process?
Jake: It would be really hard to do on your own I think without a lot of supervision. People who do this craft learned at the hands of other people. It’s not something that’s readily taught, you can’t just find the information easily online on how to do it all. But I’d say that the normal cost probably for a green card process might be somewhere between eight and twelve thousand dollars for an individual. It kind of depends a little bit on the type of green card because some might involve more work than the other types.
Alan: Jake, we need to take a quick break. We’ll be right back after these messages. I would like to talk about the EB-5 immigrant visa or the investor visas, a hot topic right now.
Jake: Yes, it’s a hot topic.
Alan: We’ll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back. I’m here today with Jake Lipman, we’ve been talking about immigration law. Before the break, I mentioned that we want to get into EB-5 which talks about the immigrant investors. It’s a hot topic right now- people coming in, establishing opportunities for people to get in the country. Now, what is it about and can you outline what EB-5 is, and then how people get involved in it?
Jake: EB-5 is essentially an immigrant visa opportunity. The person would get a Green Card at the end of that opportunity by investing $1 million in the United States and some company where they create 10 jobs as a result of that investment. There is also an option for a $500,000 investment if the company exists in a certain economically challenged region in the US or if they are investing in something called the regional center which is an immigration approved, prequalified investment where they don’t have to create 10 real jobs but indirect jobs through the economy, as economists go around figuring how jobs are created.
Alan: With the million dollars, is it just them or do they get other people with them?
Jake: Their whole family up to children under 21- basically spouse and children.
Alan: Unlimited kids?
Jake: Yeah, unlimited kids. Big families are welcome.
Alan: That’s a nice feature I guess, giving opportunity. I guess what it is doing is creating jobs here, they have to have 10 employees?
Jake: Yeah. They’re going to create ten jobs. My business partner has a regional center that he’s established called the Golden Pacific ventures and it’s essentially an agricultural project on the big Island of Hawaii. He establishes farms for individual investors and manages those farms. It’s a $500,000 investment. So, we’ve already seen a lot of traction with that, people coming and a lot of interest, especially from the Asian countries where the economy is doing so well.
Alan: What do they grow down there?
Jake: It’s a coffee plantation. So, he’ll establish a coffee plantation and manage it for the investor. We do the immigration work for the investors to help them get through the process.
Alan: A person wanting to start in on this, they just contact you by internet or email or phone? How do they reach you?
Jake: You can reach us by phone, 925-771-8181, it’s an easy way to reach. Our website is www.visa wolf.com.
Alan: Going back to this EB-5, what’s the timeframe a person starts as the immigrant investor? Is it just a matter of having a $1 million and say, I just bought a farm and now I’m ready to roll?
Jake: Yeah. They need to show the source of the funds, the money can’t come from some kind of an illegal source. But if they have $1 million and invest in a legitimate business in the US or half a million in certain cases that can qualify, then they will get a Green Card. It usually takes about a year.
Alan: Now after the Green Card, how long do they have to keep the business open for?
Jake: Well, that’s a good question. So, typically there’s a two-year period that is a conditional Green Card and after the two years, they need to come back and show that their business has created the 10 jobs and that it’s still in an active status. And then they will get a permanent Green Card at that point.
Alan: Is it typically from the day it is issued, two years conditional?
Jake: Yeah. They can become a citizen after being a resident for five years total.
Alan: Wow, sounds like it’s a hot growing area. Lot of people want to get in, it’s an easy way to get in if they have the money to do so.
Jake: That’s right. It’s a great option, especially for those wealthier individuals that may want some kind of security plan if they’re coming from a country where they’re not so sure about how the future might play out.
Alan: I’ve been visiting here today with Jake Lipman, he’s at VisaWolf, an immigration attorney. His website is visawolf.com. Jake, it’s been a pleasure to have you on today’s show.
Jake: Appreciate it Alan, thanks a lot.
Alan: Thanks for being here today with us in American Dreams. Join us again next week, right here at AM1220 KDOW.
Jakob Lipman has practiced immigration law for over ten years. His practice focuses on employment-based immigration, counseling employers in complex immigration practice and policy concerns. Over the years, he has supported multinational and domestic organizations of all sizes and from every major industry. Jakob has lectured on immigration-related subjects in a variety of settings and has authored articles on corporate immigration compliance as well as the PERM labor certification process. He is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and is an expert in the area of immigration case management software. Jake is fluent in Spanish.