In Legal Departments, Work Volumes May Be Fluctuating Alongside Immigration Laws

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Legal could be working some late nights this month, thanks to an October visa bulletin from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service that – at least for now – is reducing the waiting time for the green card. In principle, an employment-related adjustment of status applicants could submit adjustments in October, even if their case is not officially decided for some time.

It's another immigration-related development in the already four years that companies have tried to track the changes made under the Trump administration. "They have changed immigration in so many ways. All firms like mine and all of the legal departments have been forced to navigate a system where it is becoming increasingly difficult to get immigration benefits," said Devin Connolly, attorney with the Reeves Immigration Law Group.

For example, in June last year, the Trump administration announced that it would temporarily suspend H1-B and other work visas. This may have hampered the ability of companies to transfer international workers and forced the legal departments to help colleagues in the human resources department cope with the increasing regulation and compliance risk.

"Some of the more advanced companies are starting to bring in an in-house immigration advisor because the volume of what some of these companies do when filing petitions is significant," said Jessica Demuth, previously vice president of legal solutions at Exigent Group Ltd. said Corporate Counsel.

She pointed out that developments around the October visa bulletin were largely unexpected. However, this could underscore a greater lesson for the future legal departments. "The willingness to use more work volume, especially in an environment where immigration is currently volatile, should be at the forefront of the minds of the legal departments," said Demuth.

Fortunately, the USCIS October Visa Bulletin impact is unlikely to be as profound as the H1-B and other work visa suspensions. Reeves' Connolly stated that changes in waiting times for green cards are not uncommon and likely wouldn't shock the legal departments. Still, these wait times are a "numbers game," and if the volume of applications USCIS receives increases significantly, the timeframe could widen again in November.

All of this means that the companies' legal departments and their outside attorneys are likely to be doing their best to gather the necessary signatures and paperwork to take advantage of the October wait. "You don't want to miss your clipboard because you don't know when it will come back," said Connolly.

How internal teams use their resources to fulfill this window is likely to vary from department to department, but there is a chance that they will seek outside help. However, it remains to be seen whether it is better or cheaper to use a law firm, an alternative legal service provider, or a combination of both.

Demuth from legal outsourcing services company Exigent believes that a law firm alone could have difficulty successfully completing the process effort associated with filing adjustments in a timely manner. "You don't have the resources. You don't have the staff to turn these things around," she said.

However, it is not a given that law firms would have to seek help from a third party. Reeves' Connolly, for example, doesn't anticipate his company will partner with an ALSP to help corporate clients take advantage of the window provided in the October Visa bulletin. "It's going to take a few extra hours and maybe a few long nights, but I think it's probably doable to get it all done," he said.


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