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Episode 19: 6 Months In: COVID’s Impact on U.S. Immigration

Podcast posted on by Evelyn Ackah in Podcast and U.S. Immigration

Episode 19: 6 Months In: COVID’s Impact on U.S. Immigration

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This week I have the privilege and honor of speaking with Lucy Lee Fong, Senior Partner at Fallon, Bixby, Cheng & Lee, Inc. immigration law firm in San Francisco about news and updates in U.S. immigration law.

Canada Immigration Lawyer Evelyn Ackah and U.S. immigration Lawyer Lucy Lee Fong discuss updates in U.S. Immigration law:

  • NAFTA and immigration
  • COVID's impact on U.S. business immigration
  • Politics impact on immigration
  • Employment-based immigration to the United States and Canada
  • How managing an immigration law firm has changed and stayed the same during the pandemic
  • CrossBorder Business Immigration
  • H-1B Visa Challenges
  • Spousal Visas
  • COVID's impact on immigrant employees and employers


Transcript

Evelyn Ackah:
Hello.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Hello, Evelyn, how are you?

Evelyn Ackah:
Good, how are you?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Good. It's great to see you.

Evelyn Ackah:
You too. Thanks so much for making time. Hello, this is Evelyn Ackah from ASK Immigration Lawyer, Evelyn Ackah's podcast and I have the pleasure of having with me Lucy Fong Lee who is the senior immigration lawyer and also senior partner at her law firm in San Francisco, is that right?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
And it's Fallon Bixby Cheng & Lee. I'm really excited to have her with us. We can talk about her very impressive career, the clients she works with, and how she can help clients looking to move to the United States for business or investment. Welcome, Lucy.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Thank you for having me, Evelyn. It's very nice to be invited to this.

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, I'm very happy to have you here. Thank you.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, a little bit about myself and our firm. So, our firm Fallon Bixby Cheng & Lee is the oldest immigration law firm in San Francisco. We were formerly established in 1925, with the oldest file dating back to 1911, so we have a very long and rich history of practicing immigration law. I, myself, I've been an immigration attorney for 28 years. I've enjoyed every-

Evelyn Ackah:
I would never have known, you look like a baby.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Thank you. Thank you.

Evelyn Ackah:
My goodness, yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I think us women age well when we do what we enjoy, right?

Evelyn Ackah:
Exactly. Yep, you're right. That's fabulous, 28 years.

Lucy Fong Lee:
28 years, and we're still enjoying it. No two cases are the same. No two situations are the same. The landscape changes all the time for our cases. In terms of the kind of clientele and cases that we take on, so I would say about 70, 75% of our practice is employment-based immigration. So, that being said, we deal a lot with professionals and the professionals range from entrepreneurs, to investors, to engineers, to professionals who could be accountants, you name it. Ballet dancers, religious individuals like monks and priests, and it's just a lot of fun to learn about people's businesses, and their industries, and what they do. We get really involved in their businesses and their individual backgrounds.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, we do work with temporary work visas and permanent residents, Green Cards for individuals and families. They come from all over the world. It's a pleasure to meet people from all over every day. And then with the 20, I would say 20, 25, 30% of the other practice is family-based immigration to unite families and citizenship.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's great. Can I just ask you, Lucy-

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
... you don't do any asylum type of work either, right? Or, does that come up in your firm?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yeah. It does come up. I practiced immigration asylum law, oh, probably about 25, to 28 years ago, it's a long time, so I do have a background in asylum and we do have other attorneys who still do some asylum cases, but we don't primarily do the asylum cases. Sometimes we have to do them because they're connected-

Evelyn Ackah:
Sure.

Lucy Fong Lee:
... with the employment base and the family base and we need to make sure that everything synchronizes so that things flow smoothly for these individuals.

Evelyn Ackah:
For sure. That makes sense, okay-

Lucy Fong Lee:
But in general, we refer those out.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yep, same. How many lawyers do you have right now?

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, there's five lawyers in our firm.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's fabulous. And then overall, how big is your team?

Lucy Fong Lee:
I think our team is about 10, 11 people or so.

Evelyn Ackah:
Get my camera right, sorry. I moved it so I can look right in your eyes.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yeah.

Evelyn Ackah:
So, you got 10, 11. So, it sounds like a similar firm in size as ours, which is why I was really interested to meet you and be connected and figure out ways we can strategize together. We have the exact same type of breakdown of clients as well, so it makes perfect sense that we would be able to refer opportunities to you. For instance, we have a lot of e-Visa work as well, so that's something that I think we will be looking for support on.

Evelyn Ackah:
Can you tell me, what are you seeing right now with US immigration? I mean, what are the latest and greatest? Is there anything happening that maybe people don't know generally unless they're in it?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Well, now we are still in the midst of the COVID pandemic and I think that affects everything and everyone and how they do business, where they are, whether they're stuck here or stuck outside United States. So, I think at this moment that is the most major driving force. We do have because Americans are so bad at keeping masks on and containing themselves, not every American, but a lot of Americans, some people might feel safer outside of the country and choose not to immigrate at this time or not to come back at this time, and others who are staying put, there's restrictions of travel as well, feel, "I am just going to stay put. I'm not going anywhere." So, I think that does affect a lot of people who have put certain parts of their life on hold at this point. How about in Canada, I'm sure there is a great impact there?

Evelyn Ackah:
Well, I mean obviously COVID has impacted us as well and it's really been interesting to watch the difference in both sides of the border because we're still getting people into Canada for business, for work permits, for permanent residence, and then they do their two-week quarantine, which is mandatory across the country. That's the difference with us, it looks like how we're managing COVID. For us, nobody can come as a visitor right now, so no tourism, no one is going to Bath legally, you can only come in for work that's considered essential, or professional, and then you have to do two weeks of quarantining. So, I think we're doing a better job at the moment as in terms of how we're keeping people out, but I'm also getting lots and lots of calls from Americans who are considering, "How can I move to Canada? I've been thinking about it. And the last election and now maybe this election and I really need to make a plan." So, we're getting a lot of that, and we'll see what happens. It's not easy to just pick up your life and start over somewhere else.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Right. So, there is a lot of strategic planning. Anything that happens economically, politically, socially, with COVID included in socially, it affects our practices whether it's in the United States, or Canada, or anywhere around the world. And so, yes, we do have an election coming up, and people are factoring that in somewhat, into how they do business, where they want to be, where they want to live, where they want to be with their loved ones. In terms of politically also, we do have intertwined with COVID, we do have certain bans that are related to COVID, travel bans. We also have certain bans based on certain work visas into the US.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, awesome.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Some people that have those visas can't come in. For example, e-Visa holders are not impacted at this point. But L visas are for intra-company transferees and those are in effect until the end of the year and then we are to see who's going to become our next president of the United States.

Evelyn Ackah:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), with any changes. But I know that the restrictions on the Ls don't affect Canadians. That's what I ...

Lucy Fong Lee:
No, they don't. They don't

Evelyn Ackah:
So, that's great, we're lucky because when it comes to the NAFTA Ls at least they're still being processed.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes. Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
What about the H-1Bs? We've also been getting a lot of calls from people. I would say in the last couple of years with everybody looking at how long Green Cards are taking, they're starting to look at, we could become permanent in Canada in two years.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
So, are you seeing a lot of transition in that way too?

Lucy Fong Lee:
We are seeing people who transition to Canada and are giving it serious consideration. There's the job market, the developing tech sector up in Canada. You have people from certain countries who are not welcome into United States for whatever reasons.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, political.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Political reasons. And they're welcome into Canada and it's fine. We tell them, "Look, you're better off up there. You can get your visa and permanent residence faster in Canada, so we encourage you to do that, and think hard if you really want to come to the United States and why you want to be here." So, we're not eager and anxious to push anyone into, we do want them to think about it very carefully.

Evelyn Ackah:
For sure.

Lucy Fong Lee:
We have people who are very fluent between the U.S. and Canada, they go back and forth.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah. I think the timing, I mean, tell me about the current processing times in the US that you know of. I mean, right now in the midst of COVID, what is actually happening for your applications so that it seems like they're taking longer and longer, are the staff still furloughed? I remember hearing about that.

Lucy Fong Lee:
What happened was that there is, there are two things that happened. In terms of furlough, so for the entire immigration service for Homeland Security, there's no furlough as far as that is concerned.

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, okay. That's good.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Okay, so they're a safe back there because they were going to furlough, I think up to 75% of their workforce. Now, there is a facility, I believe it's somewhere in Kansas and it's connected with a contractor and they are furloughed.

Evelyn Ackah:
Okay.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And that's impacting certain processing of certain applications in that regard, but not overall, not the bigger picture overall. Now, there's that. Now, for the district offices, the local offices for USCIS, for immigration that people walk into, for interviews whether it's for permanent residence, for US citizenship, they're not furlough however, because COVID is still present, they are working at a 25% capacity to social distance-

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, my gosh.

Lucy Fong Lee:
... and are space out their officers and the public from coming in. They don't want people to be in the building very long. You look at the wait room, there's very few people in there and you can't sit near each other and you're Plexiglassed between the officers and you and-

Evelyn Ackah:
Really? 25%, that's like nobody.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yeah.

Evelyn Ackah:
So, nothing is happening. Is anything happening with your applications then? Moving?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Well, things are happening, so anything that is being mailed to the immigration service or emailed, some things are uploaded electronically, like our US Department of Labor, US Department of State, it depends on which agency, they're still chugging along, they're moving along, and we are getting approvals, it just depends on the type of case. So, if some are, for example, were here on a H-1B work visa and they want to do an extension, that's fine. They can get it extended, they can stay. If they want to get it expedited and do premium process they can get that done in 15 days, that's fine. Regular processing is several months.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Now, for walking into an office, if there's an interview schedule, they are for right now waiving employment-based permanent residence interviews, once again, those were waived for a very long time, and then under the Trump Administration, it was brought back, interviewing each and every person. They didn't have enough office space and was so behind. They maxed out the number of officers they hired and they were still behind. They were behind like 18 months, even before COVID.

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, my goodness.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, when the Immigration Service closed down for a few months during COVID, when it was really bad, and they reopened at the 25% capacity in July, they did start with citizenship, and then they're moving toward the permanent residence applications. I have people that have been waiting over a year, 18 months. It could be upwards of 24 months. We're going to wait and see.

Evelyn Ackah:
My goodness.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yeah.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's just so disheartening when you've probably spent years and years to get to this stage and now you're waiting longer. What I'm finding with my team here in Ackah Law is we're doing a lot of calming clients down, a lot of therapeutic support, you know what I mean?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes, yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
They're all frustrated, and we're frustrated, and I think it's just letting them know that everything is slowing down, but nothing has stopped, it's still there-

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
... it's still in good standing until we get a decision, and just to be patient and figure out some options for them, because it is stressful and I am sure you're doing the same, but we spend a lot of time giving updates, monthly, checking-in weekly, depending on the client. The other day I did a call with a client in Switzerland, a Zoom call because we got a notification something was being held because of the political climate and COVID and she wanted to know what does that mean for my application, so rather than just another call or a quick email, we arranged a Zoom and you could tell at the end she was so grateful that she could see my face, and she knew I was telling the truth, and she knew that I'm as frustrated as she is but that we have a back-up plan and we could strategize. Are you seeing that with your clients too?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes, every day. We are truly counselors.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And more ways than practicing laws now days, and it's been like that, and I do find that if it's not a phone call, a Zoom video chat, any way to communicate that human interaction because I think people are just they're not able to interact with each other and the moment it's not electronic, I mean email's fine too, but you hear a voice or you see somebody, it relieves some of that stress.

Evelyn Ackah:
You're right.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And it's really nice to find that and ask people, how are you?

Evelyn Ackah:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lucy Fong Lee:
I mean, here in California we have wildfires now.

Evelyn Ackah:
I know.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, on top of COVID, now we have bad smoke, bad air, I mean it's seasonal now.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And some of the wineries are burying up and that as I speak right now.


Lucy Fong Lee:
So, we have multiple things, but it's nice to just touch base and ask, "How are you? How are your spouse? How are your children? How are you coping?" And we have people who are very stressed out, not just about their cases, but about homeschooling their kids while they're trying to work. Trying to care for elderly parents while they can't see them. So, there's a lot.

Evelyn Ackah:
There's a lot, yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I think the positive side is that we're kinder. Everyone's kinder, everyone's gentler. We're trying to be, we're conscientious of each other.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, I agree.

Lucy Fong Lee:
That part I like.

Evelyn Ackah:
Me too.

Lucy Fong Lee:
That part I like.

Evelyn Ackah:
I agree. I mean when COVID started at our firm, right away we were on the phone with our clients. Everybody else worked from home but I was in the office and socially distanced, nobody was here but me, but it's easier because I have young kids to then to be at home teaching them, so thank goodness we had home support to teach them, but I literally called every client and just was, "How are you doing?" And they need to hear it. And we've been doing it sequentially. Now we're on our third or fourth round because it just goes on and on.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
And the more we touch base, some of them are no longer with their companies anymore, or some of their businesses have declined significantly, and you get those updates and you figure out if there's any way you can help, but you're right, we are counselors, and that's why sometimes at the end of a long day, we are drained because, in addition to just the work that we love, it's also the emotional toll of worrying about people's status, what happens if you lose your job?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
And now you're, you know what I mean, you're status is at risk and not like you can go home right now with COVID and so, there's a lot of problem-solving and being strategic, but I enjoy, but it's been a while now, we're ready for some things to be normalized, I'm sure. Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I think this is the best time to build goodwill with clients, with people, whether they are existing clients, or they haven't retained you yet, or they're just poking around because, at the end of the day, it's whoever takes the time to talk to them.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And I am similar to you, we're spending more time with our clients.

Evelyn Ackah:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lucy Fong Lee:
And we wouldn't be doing immigration law if we didn't care about people and they're situations.

Evelyn Ackah:
Of course. Of course.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I think everyone has my home number now.

Evelyn Ackah:
I'm not quite there. They all have my mobile number because when our clients travel, I'm on-call, 24/7 if something happens at the airport, so they all have my mobile, but not my home, and there's got to be someplace. Are you guys all working from home right now?

Lucy Fong Lee:
For the most part. We are rotating into the office.

Evelyn Ackah:
Okay, that makes sense.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Because the cases have to be mailed-

Evelyn Ackah:
Couriered.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And we get paper documents from the government every day, so every workday we do have people at the office.

Evelyn Ackah:
Just in and out picking up things. Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Right.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's great.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And how about your office?

Evelyn Ackah:
We're basically back to the office but we're socially distanced. We all have offices, we just come in and close our doors and wipe everything down-

Lucy Fong Lee:
Nice.

Evelyn Ackah:
And we don't intermingle, and nobody comes into the office, so our big thing is we want to protect the team that's here, you know, 10 people in two big spaces we're in attached to each other in our offices, so we work independently and we call each other in the office. I was going to ask you about the technology you use, but being such a successful firm with so much history, what have you done to help with, let's say, your intake process? How do people find you and then how do you glide them into your process?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Well, how people find us? So, a lot of times they come through referrals of either existing clients, other attorneys whether they're immigration attorneys who may or may not practice in the same space. You'd be surprised, some people call and say, "Well, I do employment-based, but I don't deal with restaurants." I'm like, "Really?"

Evelyn Ackah:
We can help.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I grew in in the restaurant business, so to me, it's just fun, "Oh, really? What kind of food is that."

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, of course.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And sometimes there are attorneys in other areas of law, it could be a business attorney saying, "Well, I'm setting up this company but they need to know about the immigration side." So I know how to set up the entity. So, there's a lot of dynamics there, some might be family law attorney saying, "Oh, I have a couple getting divorced and one of the spouses may or may not have permanent residence, and they may be affected." So there's that, existing clients. And sometimes I've had some people say, "Oh, I found you on the internet." I'm like, "Really, what's out on the internet on me?" And, of course, there are professional organizations that I do belong to.

Evelyn Ackah:
Of course.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I like to volunteer. I tend to give a lot and volunteer with any non-profit group that I'm with, whether it's a Bar Association or professional organization.

Evelyn Ackah:
Sounds good.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It's just a lot of fun. I mean, I really like pitching in and sharing my knowledge and also grooming younger attorneys so they can grow up to be excellent attorneys someday.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's great.

Lucy Fong Lee:
With that being said, it comes back. People come back and say, "I have a potential client, or I have something for you." And a lot of times I just give people some time when they call me, and if it doesn't develop now, it develops in the future and you come back-

Evelyn Ackah:
Absolutely.

Lucy Fong Lee:
... it's very common, they'll say, "Oh, you talked to me three or five ago and like remember me?" I'm like, "Oh, yes. I remember you." Depending on the facts of the case.

Evelyn Ackah:
I know.

Lucy Fong Lee:
But, Evelyn, I do turn away people every day. Not because of being too busy, we're all busy, I don't think we're ever too busy, but it's because if a case is not right, or it's not ripe, I like to tell them why. So, I do like to plan people's lives for their short-term and long-term, so they know what to expect, there's no surprises.

Evelyn Ackah:
Exactly.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And also so that they have a reasonable expectation going down the path of life-

Evelyn Ackah:
I understand.

Lucy Fong Lee:
... of what may or may not come.

Evelyn Ackah:
Exactly, so definitely the same. It's important. And, for us, we use some technology to help get through the process, and we have a client engagement coordinator who talks to every potential lead, or who calls us by referral, or existing client, or online they find us, but we have to screen-

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
... because we're not all things to all people. So, just like you, we have our expertise and our specialization where we know we can be successful, but other areas, we may not be the right fit, and so when it's litigation-based, asylum-based, refugee, things like that, we always outsource because that is not our area of expertise and I think it's important to know what you do well and what you're not really doing or interested in developing because I've spent 22 years, you've spent 28 years learning your craft, so we want to be successful for our clients, so that you're right, we don't take everybody, so it allows us to screen and learn the facts, and learn the story, and learn the history, and then make a decision is they're right to do a consultation with one of our professionals.

Lucy Fong Lee:
How many attorneys are in your firm?

Evelyn Ackah:
We have two, and then we have two articling students, so that would be four. Articling students in Canada are those that just finished law school and they're, yeah, they have to in Canada do 12 months, that plus their Bar exams before they're lawyers, so hopefully, in about, I don't know, in about 8 months, we'll have four lawyers, and then-

Lucy Fong Lee:
I really like that system.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, I think so. I can't imagine coming out of law school and just opening your door and saying, I'm a lawyer. Think about how little we knew out of law school, you know? And we're always learning, so how can you feel... I don't know, it's such a strange world to me that people just put up their shingle right out of school. It's a very different model. It's a very British model, yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
No, I like that. I like that. And then how do you work in your office when you develop a case and decide it's something? Is it in teams and how do you handle that?

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, as I said, we use a lot of technology, so everything from our phone system into our, we use CRM as Clio Grow, is what we use and captures, so we've got leads that will call five years later and we can find them. We go that's that person, now they're back, now they're ready. And it's so great, they're always shocked when we can remember their facts because they're in the system and same with our chatbot. So, we use a lot of social media because in Canada, to be able to separate yourself when you're a small boutique, I used to be at a big law partner at a global law firm and you don't have to do as much social media because you're getting referrals from all your partners across the work, it's different now. And so, all of that feeds into our CRM and then we have an automated retainer agreement process, so everything's done online and then we have a practice management system that captures everything, so once a file is open, then I usually determine between the four of us, and we have two off-site contractors as well, who help us when we're really busy, they're really great as well, then we just distribute the work, but we are still team-oriented.

Evelyn Ackah:
I mean, I'm always involved in the file. I want people to feel like that they retain our firm, they also retain me, whether or not I'm doing every form or every submission, I review everything and that makes it challenging. I'm looking to develop our lawyers to be more senior so pretty soon I won't need to be involved with every file. Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Right. So I have to say, at the risk of sounding like a control freak, I don't think I am, I do like to delegate.

Evelyn Ackah:
Lawyers are.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I think part of it is it's always interesting, but I also like to chime in and chip in where I feel, hey, there's an issue here, or there's something that's changed, or something that's new and just some background information.

Evelyn Ackah:
Absolutely.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, when we do develop the case, and anyone at the firm can develop the case and it becomes something then we do use a firm's software with a database. Actually, we have a timekeeping software that we use for keeping track of what's what, so we have different ways.

Evelyn Ackah:
May I ask, do you flat fee generally, or are you hourly?

Lucy Fong Lee:
It's kind of both.

Evelyn Ackah:
Same.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, it's project-based. So, it starts with a flat fee, and we try to make it project-based, but with a caveat that if something happens, so if something along the way, someone says, "Oh, by the way, I never told you I was arrested."

Evelyn Ackah:
Never happens to us, right.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And you think, "Oh, I see."

Evelyn Ackah:
I see.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I see. And the government security check has exposed that, so now we need to deal with this. They're like, "Oh, I didn't think that made a difference."

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, my goodness.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So well, your fees just went up.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, they did.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Because now I have to deal with this.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, they did.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, we try our best to gauge to give them a realistic expectation. And sometimes the government comes back to ask for additional things-

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, like further evidence.

Lucy Fong Lee:
... you can tell they didn't look for it because they're asking for things they've already received.

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, right.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So then we just give it to them and I'm thinking, "Oh, my goodness. Really?" So we just give it back. And other times, we warn our clients, like this may be a challenging case, and prepare yourself and this is what you might gather in the meantime just in case.

Evelyn Ackah:
Good. Good

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yeah, so then we go onto hourly after that.

Evelyn Ackah:
Okay. Oh, that's a great model. So, you move from flat fee when it's certain and you can quote, and then all the uncertain elements you move into hourly when you can. Good.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Right. And sometimes legal procedures change.

Evelyn Ackah:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lucy Fong Lee:
For example, we have something new called the Public Charge Self-Sufficiency Requirement for all permanent resident cases.

Evelyn Ackah:
I've heard of that. Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It requires, I mean the document stuff is like 13 pages long, and then it requires like supporting documents, you have to explain it to show that your client's not going to go on public assistance with the government.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, yes.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It does take more time, and it's new, so it was introduced and we said, "Oh, great. Now we have to add more fees." And then there were some lawsuits in federal court, so there was an injunction, then we didn't have to do it, like, "Oh, great. You save our clients money." And then the injunction was lifted and it came back and our clients are like, "What? We need to pay you more money for this?"

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, my goodness.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Then we have to explain it and then we have to back it up and show them the links to what's going on in the course and explain it. So, that's why it's good, and it takes a lot of communicating.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, you're right. Well, one of the questions I have for you, a lot of our Canadian clients, not a lot, but sometimes they'll have some fees or waiver issues, or inadmissibility, something that happened 25 years ago and now it's out there and it's maybe stopping them from entering the US under normal circumstances and we used to process them because they were being able to be done at the airports and submitted to ARO and we just wait and go on from there, and now, it's under this ECAS system. Have you done one since they've changed to that ECAS, or ECAS where you have to upload everything first? Like, it's just a very different visa waiver program. This is for the temporary entries, even like ...

Lucy Fong Lee:
This is for the people that come in as visitors-

Evelyn Ackah:
Exactly.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It's the waiver of the non-immigrant entry in the United States?

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, exactly. Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, we have done it. It is extremely difficult, it is frustrating, and it takes a while, and you know, I have to say, it goes on a case-by-case basis and it depends on the facts of the case, it depends on your client and how they present themselves. Some people, of course, have more compelling, tug-on-your-heartstrings-type facts, and others where it's just not sympathetic sometimes, and it's like-

Evelyn Ackah:
Other people want to go to Disneyland, and it's not!

Lucy Fong Lee:
I know and it's like, "I need to go to Vegas for my birthday party."

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I'm like, "Oh, no. I'm sorry, that's not compelling enough." Well, someone might say well it is to them, so ...

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, I hear you. Yeah, we actually do quite a bit of it and I'm kind of interested in what's going to change because we've done our first ECAS, I think it's called or ECAS, where you upload everything, now the ports because of COVID, you're not allowed to do it, submit it at the port of entry at the airport where they take your biometrics and then they send it into the US for processing.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Right.

Evelyn Ackah:
It's all new, and this is the thing about immigration is there's constant change and you have to stay up-to-date because one minute you're doing one way and next minute we have to re-do applications for two or three of our clients looking for a visa waiver, but these ones were employment-based, so those who want TNs or L1s, but we knew we had discriminality to overcome, right, before we could get them in. How do you stay on top of all the changes?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Oh, boy.

Evelyn Ackah:
I know.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It takes a whole village.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
We have all the lawyers in the office where every day we're scouring for updated information. We actually do get a lot of the information from our AILA-

Evelyn Ackah:
AILA, yeah. Fabulous.

Lucy Fong Lee:
...the American Immigration Lawyer's Association. They're wonderful.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes.

Lucy Fong Lee:
They are wonderful. And I think the reason why I like to give back and volunteer with AILA, do so much is because I don't think I could practice immigration law without their support and I love the comradery of all the immigration lawyers, and whatever we get that's updated, we share it with everybody. We share it with everybody electronically and then we can discuss it electronically, then we make sure we're all on the same page, and then if we need to notify clients, we just divide and conquer or we send and e-blast so it's a daily thing with our firm.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, never-ending learning.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It's never-ending. And sometimes our clients educate us, they find information and we're always asking, "How was it? What were you asked? How did it go? Did it work? Did it not work?" So, for example, now we have the national interests exceptions for countries that are banned from coming into the United States, certain countries and the exception is some people want to, they may quarantine in a third country for 14 days before they come here, and the instructions are not clear, so do you apply at the consulate, or at the embassy, and then to see how that goes, and you have to apply at the port of entry on this end, you have to withdraw the other one to see which one goes through, and in the meantime, you have visitors, people who may come in who may or may not be admitted.

Evelyn Ackah:
I know.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And it's very nerve-racking. And they're flying from a very long distance.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes. I'm finding the airlines are become incredibly restrictive, because they're all nervous about the possibility of somebody coming in and maybe having COVID or some other, to the point where they're becoming immigration.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
We had a story, two weeks ago, a client from San Francisco, wonderful executive, big business, we set him up, so what we do at Acklah Law too is we set up an inter-company transfer, we incorporated him in a province here, where he wanted to operate to bring his family, and he has businesses all over the world. So, this is an executive of real merit and we'd prepped him, he's an American citizen, even though he was born in another country, very successful. We prepped him, told him what to do. I got a call at six in the morning from him at the airport because the airline would not let him on the plane and they were screening him like immigration and I had to educate the ... It was ridiculous, me, see, this is a customer service, not even, they hadn't even encountered immigration because they encounter immigration when they land in Canada. This was before he could get on a plane. For two hours we had to scramble and just talk and talk and talk so that she could be satisfied that he had his package that was legitimate and he would get his work permit. He got a three-year work permit upon entry in 10 minutes, but the airlines I'm finding are very, they're doing a lot of scrutiny right now.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yeah, that's very interesting that they wouldn't even let him ... Yeah.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, we're seeing that in Europe as well, so it's a whole new world in practice, that's for sure and looking forward to finding ways to work together, Lucy, and refer work. Do you get any people that ever ask about Canadian immigration from ... Are they looking?

Lucy Fong Lee:
I do.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah?

Lucy Fong Lee:
I do. I actually have some companies that ask about opening up an entity, a related office up there, a sub-office because it's becoming increasingly difficult to get a work visa for non-Canadians.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Like H-1B.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And so it would be a situation where they're either people from a third country, not Canada, or maybe they're US citizens, and they can't get the talent here, they can't get them into the country, and so they have to develop another office and staying in North America, going to Canada, we got a lot of calls especially this year during COVID about what do we do now? I'm like, "I think you better start looking at Canada if you want to see if there's a way to get a work visa or to establish an entity, no, just don't operate out of your apartment, you should open up an entity there."

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes. We will. It's called near-shoring and we do a lot of it where people will especially from Silicon Valley, I'm sure your experience is the H-1B challenges-

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
... is they in the last two, three years is we've moved a number of corporations with headquarters in California, in the US, into Canada so they can bring their skilled workers.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Right.

Evelyn Ackah:
And it works, meaning that within two years of permanent residence, but if they have that inter-company transferability, one year of regular employment, just like the L, much easier than the L. Your package of the Ls are massive. We can bring them into Canada probably in a matter of a month or two, under normal pre-COVID times, consular, processing, and then they get started with their lives in Canada, so we definitely are experts in that area, and we'd love to help anytime.

Lucy Fong Lee:
That's wonderful.

Evelyn Ackah:
And I know now you're on our referral list, you and your firm and your colleagues, so when we have anything that's e-Visa, or any complicated OP, all those alphabets of law that as I call it the US alphabet of immigration, we'll definitely be reaching out to you because I think you and I practice in that same mindset of the client first -

Lucy Fong Lee:
And we will be reaching out to you-

Evelyn Ackah:
Thank you.

Lucy Fong Lee:
... with individual and with companies as we encourage them. Please, set up something in Canada, don't try to do it on your own, don't... There are laws, immigration laws in Canada.

Evelyn Ackah:
There are laws. We're not free-for-all, we have laws. I know that one thing we talked about before you wrap is you also work with people who are looking, you provide connections for lawyers internationally, sounds like you've got a really nice global network of [inaudible 00:40:01].

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes.

Evelyn Ackah:
How have you developed that over the years?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Well, I have people that may say look, I want to immigrate to another country for whatever reason. Maybe their business is over in another country, or this is very interesting, I've had, not a lot, but I've had some people, maybe people have more time to think about it now because they're at home, they think, "I think I could derive citizenship from El Salvador, from Ireland, from the UK, from Japan." And it has to do with property rights, inheritance rights.

Evelyn Ackah:
Interesting.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Isn't that interesting?

Evelyn Ackah:
Same. Wow.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And some of these countries allow dual citizenship, Japan doesn't.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And now Canada does, which is fabulous. I have clients that have citizenships with other countries and then they add Canada, and then they come here.

Evelyn Ackah:
Wow.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And I just ask them, "What do you have? Tell me all of your citizenships. Let's see what works."

Evelyn Ackah:
Let's not leave anything out, yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Let's see if there's a treaty and we can get you here.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's great.

Lucy Fong Lee:
But it's nice, so there is a global mobility group that I'm connected to, and it's actually through AILA as well, and what happens is we can shoot out, it's very easy, email globally all over the world, "Hey, can somebody deal with getting somebody to Israel. Where there's a work visa, or here's the situation." And it doesn't have to be immigration. It could be a family law attorney, it could be setting up a business, it could be a lot of things. People will come back and reach out.

Evelyn Ackah:
Good.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And if someone in the group doesn't do that, they will likely know other colleagues who practice it and it's a wonderful resource.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's sounds great.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Clients love it, they just shoot it back. Oh, I need to get you connected.

Evelyn Ackah:
I need to join that group. It's AILA, such a great resource.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I'll get you connected with that. I think it's a wonderful resource.

Evelyn Ackah:
And it's worth every penny, but I don't feel like I'm not using it as fully as I can. I'm so focused on what are the changes at the border and the points of entry, and stories we hear from each other, but I'm going to look at that, and I know you're going to help me get connected.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yes, I will get into that.

Evelyn Ackah:
You refer, people are always looking and I miss being part of a global firm, mostly for that, not for anything else, but to be able to call, pick up the phone and say, "We have a client in Canada and you're here in the UK and can work with them?" And it's still under the same umbrella. In this case, I'm happy to refer it out and have someone get the good support they need from another AILA member, you know what I mean?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Right.

Evelyn Ackah:
Or, from a local lawyer from that country that practices at the same level. That's what I'm looking for.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It's extremely useful, especially if you're looking for certain documents and some countries it may be hard to get a birth certificate, a police record, a deed to a piece of property, it could be a lot of things, so it's extremely useful.

Evelyn Ackah:
I will look into it for sure. I have one question for you right now before we wrap up. Have you ever done a proxy marriage immigration case?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Oh.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes. Because I'm getting calls about proxy marriages because of COVID and I don't do that, but I know that there are some lawyers and countries that it's legal where you can do it.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So that's not allowed here.

Evelyn Ackah:
Okay.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Okay, so people do need to all be in the same place to get married, even before COVID, even now.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, they want to be in the same place to get married in order to be recognized anywhere in the world. Now, during COVID, because not all of the hall of justices or city halls are opened and I mean that municipalities of the cities for an in-person wedding, there is a lot of virtual weddings going on across the counties.

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, my goodness.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And get this, the mayors' license is DocuSigned, so it's electronically signed.

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, my God.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It's so fabulous. And as long as the couple that's getting married-

Evelyn Ackah:
Are together.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Together.

Evelyn Ackah:
Okay.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Okay, that's fine.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yep.

Lucy Fong Lee:
That's fine. And they do it in a virtual video conference, and they DocuSign, and then they get them this marriage license.

Evelyn Ackah:
My God. That's so cool.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Isn't that interesting.

Evelyn Ackah:
It's so cool. I mean now days, people are getting married curing COVID and Zoom weddings and all kinds of stuff, but I didn't realize that the commissioner, for instance, could be somewhere else Zooming in the marriage ceremony. That's impressive, that's very good.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It's very impressive. I also know of drive-through weddings and I think that's more of with like your family and your guests.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
But with the governments, the local governments it's they have things scheduled.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's interesting. People have called us asking because, of course, some of the people are separated whether it's India, or China, or Africa, and they were planning to be married and now they can't travel and they were asking, and I just say, "We don't in Canada recognize it. We can't do it because we can't rely upon it." And so we have to tell them you have to wait and wait for this to process and wait until it's all done so you can get on the plane and go visit and get married and start your life, right.

Evelyn Ackah:
Right.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I think the closest thing we can do is start and initiate a fiance visa if they're not married.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And if they've met in the last two years in person, more likely than not they have, and just say, "Look with the timing, let's just get that initiated."

Evelyn Ackah:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That makes sense. I wish we had that in Canada. You know in Canada there's no fiance visa?

Lucy Fong Lee:
Really?

Evelyn Ackah:
We don't have it. We have spousal common law, which means you have to be together, same-sex marriage, but we do not have a fiance visa, so it's a whole category that you have, which is why I'd love a 90-day fiance.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Oh, that's shows.

Evelyn Ackah:
I know it's just over-the-top. It's like that bad TV you watch when you've had a 12-hour day and you just want to veg. But yeah, I wish we had it because it would help a lot of people, but it's either you're married or you can prove you're common-law for 12 months, or nothing, you can't do the almost married, come in and get married within 90 days and yeah, very different. So, that's one thing you guys have on us. Do you guys allow in the US same-sex marriages?

Lucy Fong Lee:
We do.

Evelyn Ackah:
Good.

Lucy Fong Lee:
We do. At least for now.

Evelyn Ackah:
Everyone used to. Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Until our Supreme Court decides to overturn it.

Evelyn Ackah:
I remember before you and I have been doing this for a long time, there wasn't even a category for that before and we in Canada were ahead and we've been doing it for years, and I always wondered if you guys came along too so that for your spousals you recognize them, that they're married or even common-law as same-sex.

Lucy Fong Lee:
So, we don't have common-law that's recognized.

Evelyn Ackah:
I know.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Right. It has to be at minimal a civil ceremony, it has to be registered anywhere in the world. I have lots of couples that have been together for a long time somewhere else in the world, and they say, "Oh, we've been a common-law couple for 10 years in the Netherlands." And I'm like, "I'm sorry. You have-

Evelyn Ackah:
You have to get married.

Lucy Fong Lee:
You have to get married.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's so old-fashioned.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yeah.

Evelyn Ackah:
Old fashioned. I've had some clients, some Canadians who were together, the same thing, for 15 years, they have children together, and he gets a L1 and then it's like, what do we do with her? And we've had to get her, you know, if they didn't want to be married for whatever reason, we have to get her like a B2 long-term to come and be there, but she doesn't get the L2 because they're not married, and I thought, "Wow."

Lucy Fong Lee:
They just didn't want to get married for whatever reason.

Evelyn Ackah:
Well, some people, I don't know what it is, but it just seems so weird that some people are living in so many different family units and they still have to comply to some of the old traditional units.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Right.

Evelyn Ackah:
What about family members that you bring along with you? Like, sometimes people call me and say, "I have a grandpa that lives with us, can we come to the US and bring that parent with us because we're caring for them?" No?

Lucy Fong Lee:
No. Oh.

Evelyn Ackah:
I wish.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I know.

Evelyn Ackah:
I wish. And I'm glad you brought that up because when people call me, whether it starts off with employment-based or family-based. Actually, I love this part of my job because I get to be nosey. I always ask them about their marital status and their children, how old their children, but I also ask, do you have siblings, how about your parents or grandparents, how old are they and who's taking care of them and what do you envision for your childcare here and do you want your parents to continue to help you with your children, or are your parents elderly and you're the only one who's taking care of your parents while you're here? And do you want to bring over that parent someday? So, there's a lot of that planning, people don't, they get surprised when I ask them. Like, no, this is important because we've been doing this long enough to see people say, "Oh, my goodness, I think I need to give up my Green Card now, I need to go back to take care of my parent."

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yeah.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And I'll tell them, so this is the long-term planning of it, well let's get them here so you can be here. And the healthcare issue, I know you have National Healthcare in Canada, but here in the US ...

Evelyn Ackah:
I know, it's so expensive.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It's expensive.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Yeah, that's a big issue for people.

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh, that's heartbreaking. Yeah, we get asked those questions and sometimes we can bring, it depends on which country, parents can visit for six months at a time, but we have something called a super visa where up to two years they can be here, as long as you have healthcare and it can last for 10 years, so it's built to create, even if they can't sponsor them right away, because our sponsorship of parents and grandparents is like a lottery too, and it's gone in five minutes, and it's pretty cool because everybody wants to bring an extended family, especially culturally, if you're from a different culture you want, but we have the super visa where they can have a long-term visa and come and they can be renewed inside of Canada, so long as you can pay their healthcare, which is not cheap because they make you pay, you're not allowed to be a part of the National Plan as a visitor, as a long-term visitor, but it's great for, I mean we had family and friends who used it and had a family member, a grandmother watching grandkids for eight years. I mean, the amount of cost savings and cultural support-

Lucy Fong Lee:
That's a wonderful visa to have.

Evelyn Ackah:
And when she was ready, she went back home, just had enough. So, it would be nice to see some changes like that on both sides of the border where it contemplates extended family members, you know?

Lucy Fong Lee:
I would love to see that change.

Evelyn Ackah:
Me too.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I would love for our U.S. and Canadian immigration laws to just mirror image.

Evelyn Ackah:
Wouldn't that be awesome?

Lucy Fong Lee:
That would be awesome.

Evelyn Ackah:
It would be easier I think too.

Lucy Fong Lee:
It would be so much easier.

Evelyn Ackah:
I would love it. Anyway, I want to thank you so much for your time.

Lucy Fong Lee:
No, thank you. Thank you, Evelyn.

Evelyn Ackah:
You are such an expert, and so impressive, and just so knowledgeable, and I am so grateful that we are connected now, and now you can't get rid of me. I'm going to be on you.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And there's such great compatibility with our practices and our clientele.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, exactly, I love it. So, I will be in touch and I look forward to seeing you on social media. Now that we've done our podcast we'll share it and you can use it as much as you want and I really, really appreciate your time and your knowledge and just know that our team will be reaching out with questions and potentials, but also, to keep our communication growing in the cross-border transfer of knowledge, we really want to make sure we learn from you and [inaudible 00:51:36].

Lucy Fong Lee:
Oh, anytime. And I will be asking you for updates on the border and who can cross the border from Canada into the US.

Evelyn Ackah:
Absolutely.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Or who can go into Canada from the U.S. or from other countries?

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, happy to help.

Lucy Fong Lee:
I will be looking to you.

Evelyn Ackah:
I'm looking for COVID to be finished so we can go back to our lives.

Lucy Fong Lee:
People are.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, but in the meantime, you call anytime, and I'm so grateful to you, congratulations on the firm, all these years you've been there, I'm really impressed. So, Fallon Bixby Cheng & Lee, we only have 10 years of being on our own, so we have another 80 years to go to keep up with you.

Lucy Fong Lee:
You have a lot of experience. And I think that's worth so much.

Evelyn Ackah:
Thank you.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And you have a successful and growing business.

Evelyn Ackah:
Thank you.

Lucy Fong Lee:
And I think it's wonderful, and similar to you, I came from a big multi-national law firm as well that has 600 lawyers.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Lucy Fong Lee:
This is a lot more fun.

Evelyn Ackah:
It is fun. It's more work sometimes, right?

Lucy Fong Lee:
But I think we're more agile. We're more agile and you can pick and choose which cases are good and you can execute them much faster and with more precision.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, exactly. There's not as much bureaucracy, that's the reason I started my firm, and so I'm really glad to know you and to be a colleague and I want to wish you all the best and say, thank you so much for appearing on our podcast.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Well, thank you.

Evelyn Ackah:
Take good care of yourself.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Okay, well, you take care too, Evelyn. Thank you.

Evelyn Ackah:
I will, take care.

Lucy Fong Lee:
Okay.


Evelyn Ackah

Founder/Managing Lawyer

Ms. Ackah is passionate about immigration law because it focuses on people and relationships, which are at the core of her personal values. Starting her legal career as a corporate/commercial ...

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In 2010 Softtek was a new foreign company in the Canadian Market and although we were already very experienced with immigration matters in other countries, Canada was an exciting challenge that we needed to take with the best immigration support and our search led to Ms. Evelyn Ackah, whom at that time decided to start her own law firm. Working with Ms. Evelyn Ackah and her team has been a very pleasant experience, they understand our business and support our needs very professionally. Their support has been critical for our operation in Canada, we trust their knowledge, discipline and commitment. We hope to continue working with them for many years.

– Softtek Integration Inc.

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