Summer 2007: Current Visa and Other Considerations Affecting Foreign Lateral Candidates Wishing to Join U.S. Practice |

Summer 2007: Current Visa and Other Considerations Affecting Foreign Lateral Candidates Wishing to Join U.S. Practice


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The hot summer months of July and the much-anticipated ''holiday'' downtime of August prompt many foreign associates and partners to review their careers more closely. Very often, such close examination leads to thoughts of a lateral move to U.S. practice, which promises cutting-edge work and high-market-value deals. This summer, however, making a lateral move to U.S. practice has been rendered more difficult due to increasing visa restrictions and already-met quotas as of April 2007. This article will address some of the more common questions I am fielding from associates abroad who wish to practice in New York or another top U.S. legal market.
Summer 2007: Current Visa and Other Considerations Affecting Foreign Lateral Candidates Wishing to Join U.S. Practice

Question One: "Is July 2007 too late to apply for an H1B visa to work in the U.S.?"

When considering a move to the U.S., most foreign associate and partner candidates rely on the H1B visa—hoping their new U.S. employers will sponsor them. As is well known, however, the U.S. government-established quota for applicants wishing to work in the U.S. under such documentation has been scaled back drastically over the last three years. In 2006, for example, the quota for the H1B was set at 65,000, which is down from the more than 116,000 that were approved in 2005.

The lowering of the H1B quota was prompted by a number of factors, including 9/11, which heightened the government's awareness of our immigration laws. Thus, while the restrictive quota is designed to serve the purpose, among many others, of keeping a better eye on our shores and limiting the displacement of experienced American citizen professionals, such restrictive quota does not solve the grand dilemma that the demand for entry remains exceedingly high and far outweighs H1B supply.

What does this mean in concrete terms? The quota for the H1B for the fiscal year 2007 opened April 1, 2007, and was met April 2, day later. This is a shocking fact, as the term for candidates to apply for and obtain such visa (with a fully liquid quota) traditionally runs from April through October. Of course, the government did open up an extra quota of 20,000 for those with advanced degrees (LL.M.s, for example); however, that quota was also met 29 days later on April 30, 2007. Hence, for anyone relying on obtainment of the H1B to complete his or her dreams of making a move to U.S. practice, your options are already severely restricted.

Question Number Two: "Is there an alternative to the H1B visa?"

Yes, there are alternatives. First, if you are already on an active H1B, you do not need to reapply. Because you are not a new applicant, you are not subject to the aforementioned quota. Moreover, if you have held H1B status at some point during the past six (6) years and have not been outside the U.S. for more than 365 consecutive days, you are also exempt from the aforementioned quota. Instead, you can get a "transfer" to a new H1B. (Remember: the H1B only allows you to work for the employer sponsoring you for the visa...and only in the capacity described.) Therefore, if you possess an active H1B, do not reapply. Simply seek a transfer instead to your new employer.

The H1B does not limit everyone, however. A large number of candidates may enter the U.S. in pursuit of their professional dreams under the H1B1, E-3, or TN-1. The TN-1, which is based upon the Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, applies to those lateral candidates with Canadian or Mexican citizenship. Note, however, that while there is a quota cap on Canadians, there is a 6,500 cap on Mexican citizens entering the U.S. Similarly, Australian candidates may enter the U.S. under the E-3 visa (reserved for 10,500 applicants), which is an arrangement proscribed via the Australian Free Trade Treaty. Finally, Singaporean and Chilean candidates may pursue employment with U.S. firms via the H1B1 (reserved for 6,800 applicants), which is again issued under the amended NAFTA treaty.

Hence, if you are a foreign candidate interested in working in the U.S. and possess citizenship with Canada, Mexico, Australia, Singapore, or Chile, you may still have options.

Outside of the H1B, a small handful of law firms will sponsor new associate/partner lateral hires under the J1 visa, which is sometimes referred to as the "Exchange Visitor Program." The good news is that there is no quota cap for this visa. The bad news is that, among other things, candidates operating under a J1 may incur a restriction, as the J1 (depending on your specific situation) may require you to return home to your country of origin for two (2) years before you are eligible to be approved for an H1B or a green card at a later date.

If you do not plan on returning home, with such terms having clearly been discussed between you and your new firm, you will likely not be able to acquire this visa. In order to put this visa in a better light, the J1 is typically extended to university sponsors for visiting scholars, researchers, and post-doctoral folks. Thus, the J1 really is a specialty situation which some law firms can work with and others simply cannot.

Depending upon your citizenship, there are many other possibilities for lateral candidates. You should speak to an immigration lawyer directly or your local immigration office to understand the visa rules, and your particular situation, more clearly.

Question Number Three: "Will a U.S. firm sponsor my green card?"

In the U.S., a large number of law firms will not sponsor foreign lateral candidates for their green cards due primarily to (1) the length of the green card process and (2) the legal costs associated therewith (such as the fees associated with labor certification and otherwise). Of course, there are exceptions to this rule for partner candidates with large portables or associate candidates with niche practice skills or unusual "perfect matches"—e.g., where the candidate is Canadian, hired by the U.S. office of a Canadian firm, with mutual designs that the candidate will be with the firm long-term (partnership material).

Having said this, as with any other piece of the U.S. employment puzzle, one should always take the opportunity to ask whether his or her potential employer will undertake the green card process on his or her behalf. If you don't ask, they won't offer it. If you do ask, there may be room for possibilities.

Question Number Four: "Putting aside visa considerations, how important is the New York (or other U.S.) bar relative to obtaining employment in the U.S.?"

The answer to the above question depends on the firm. For some law firms, admission to the New York (or other U.S. jurisdiction) bar is a mandatory requirement before they will even consider you for employment. For others, it is not. Very often, the better your academic history and firm credentials, the more a firm will ease up on its bar requirements.

Having said this, if you are a foreign lateral candidate and you already have a U.S. bar (preferably New York) under your belt and admission obtained in such jurisdiction, you have put yourself leagues ahead of the rest of the pack and raised your market value significantly. In sum, whether or not you have the bar is not a lone determining factor of employment, but it is extremely relevant.

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog,, and, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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