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Episode 26: Seattle Immigration Attorney Dustin O'Quinn: The Best Solution Is Communication

Podcast posted on by Evelyn Ackah in Podcast

Episode 26: Seattle Immigration Attorney Dustin O'Quinn: The Best Solution Is Communication

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Calgary immigration lawyer Evelyn Ackah spoke with Dustin O'Quinn, a Seattle immigration attorney and Immigration Team Chair at Lane Powell on the Ask Immigration Lawyer Evelyn Ackah Podcast. Dustin counsels clients of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 100 companies, in all areas of immigration law with a focus on the technology, energy, design and financial industries.

In dealing with the many changes in US immigration law, Dustin says the best solution is communication. Be flexible and be patient. Evelyn and Dustin discussed the rapidly evolving changes in immigration laws in the United States and Canada, and how they impact corporate immigration:

  • How the 2017 Presidential elections impacted corporate communication
  • How the impact of COVID-19 and closed borders and made it challenging for companies to continue cross-border immigration and for employees to cross borders on essential work
  • Port of Entry L-1 renewals
  • Canadian companies and individuals moving to the United States
  • The rapidly evolving changes in immigration laws in the United States and Canada
  • E-2 nonimmigrant investor visa process
  • H-1B visa application volume and status
  • Corporate compliance and audits
  • Technology and innovation in immigration
  • Dual citizenship in the United States
  • Lawful Permanent Residence status benefits and drawbacks
  • Requests for Evidence impact on cost and timeline for immigration applications

About Evelyn Ackah

Evelyn Ackah is the Founder and Managing Lawyer at Ackah Business Immigration Law. We work with individuals and business owners from all over the world. For more information on immigration to Canada or the United States in general, Ask Evelyn Ackah at Ackah Business Immigration today at (403) 452‑9515 or email us directly at contact@ackahlaw.com.

Transcript

Evelyn Ackah:
Good day, this is Evelyn Ackah from Ask Evelyn Ackah Immigration Lawyer Podcast, and I have the pleasure and joy of introducing my dear friend and colleague, Dustin O'Quinn, who is Chair of the immigration practice at Lane Powell in Seattle, Washington. Welcome.

Dustin O'Quinn:
Hi, Evelyn, thanks for having me.

Evelyn Ackah:
It's such a pleasure, I'm really excited. People won't know this yet, but you and I work together sometimes on files and refer work to each other cross-border and you and your team have been such a wonderful resource for us of immigration advice for the areas we don't do. And also, hopefully, sharing some information with your team as well about Canadian immigration law.

Dustin O'Quinn:
Indeed, Evelyn, we're very happy to have you as a resource because we don't want to get in any trouble by providing advice on the very complicated Canadian immigration laws. But it's great that the Canadian and US governments sometimes work together. So it provides an opportunity for us to be able to collaborate.

Evelyn Ackah:
I think it's fabulous. I want to know about how you, Dustin O'Quinn, started in immigration law. How did you find your way to corporate immigration?

Dustin O'Quinn:
Sure. Yeah, I would say 15 years ago not that many people even knew what corporate immigration was. But I was practicing in Texas, which is where I'm from, and I happen to be fluent in Spanish. Spanish was one of my majors in college, which led me to doing a lot of volunteer work in college and law school. And so I wound up volunteering on a lot of immigration cases, but they were the asylum cases and Temporary Protected Status. But after law school, I wound up just going into the immigration practice because I was drawn to that from all of my volunteer work.

Dustin O'Quinn:
However, I was assigned to the corporate immigration case at my very first law firm and as you know, corporate immigration is very different than asylum and Temporary Protected Status, but I still got to use my Spanish. And I still do once in a blue moon, but I really enjoy helping companies and their employees navigate the immigration system in the United States.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a great arc as to how you got into it, because for me, it's being able to sleep at night. Some of the asylum stuff is ... It's very taxing emotionally and mentally. And I think being able to focus on the corporate or the executive or the highly skilled worker categories, you know that we do our best and most of the time we're successful, but that rare occasion, if you're not and you have to redo it, you're not thinking about life and death. You know what I'm saying?

Dustin O'Quinn:
That's right. I do think the stakes are high in what we do and we can help companies save lots of money and those employees who are in the United States. And we may have dozens of cases, and they've got one, it's their own, and it's so important, but you're absolutely right, Evelyn. It's just a little bit different when someone is seeking refuge in the United States from a life or death situation. And I still touch those cases once in a while when I volunteer, but only when I volunteer. And our client base at Lane Powell, we're so happy to work with companies. And it's just a different practice.

Evelyn Ackah:
It is, it is. So I remember when you joined Lane Powell, how many years ago has it been now? Because you've moved through the ranks so quickly it seems. So now you're a shareholder, you're chair of the immigration department, lots of other things you do for the firm.

Dustin O'Quinn:
A lot has happened in five years, Evelyn. I think that it's interesting, I joined in 2016 and then the United States got a new president in January of 2017. And we had just dozens of immigration changes per year that really required a lot of strategy and research and really pivoting and figuring out how to practice immigration. And companies were figuring out how to keep their employees sponsored and how to let people travel internationally. So the last five years seems like 15 years, but in a good way,

Evelyn Ackah:
How did you deal with ... Like, obviously there are a lot of H-1B clients, we don't do them at Ackah Law, so we always refer them out. How did you deal with that in the whole Silicon Valley and all these people from India and China who wanted to get to Green Card and because of the politics at the time, it just seemed like never going to happen? But what kind of solutions could you offer them?

Dustin O'Quinn:
That's right, Evelyn. I think the best solution is communication. The immigration laws right now are crazier than they normally are, and they're normally pretty crazy. And so when I'm dealing with companies, whether they're large or small, and you've got busy human resources contacts, or especially the employees themselves, so really trying to navigate the system and figure out exactly what's going on through those news alerts and blog posts that they read. So I think the most successful thing we can do is pause for just a moment and think about how we communicate to our clients. The messaging may be, "Things are a bit crazy right now, but your wait time is only delayed six months to a year. So I know that six months wasn't great before, and now it's 12 months and that's really problematic, but maybe let's hop on a 15 minute call and discuss what all your options are, just so that you are comfortable, that we're doing things the right way, and that we didn't miss any other options."

Evelyn Ackah:
That's right.

Dustin O'Quinn:
From a corporate client standpoint, Evelyn, it's the same thing, but on a larger scale. If you're a really busy human resources contact and you've got to deal with say 50 employees who have visas, and now the world has changed on that front, and you've got those 50 employees beating down your door. We have to stop and figure out what exactly is going on in immigration, how that affects your industry and your company, and then we liaise with you to figure out how to have those conversations with your employees so that they feel as safe as possible given the climate.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, I can just imagine. I mean, COVID has affected us here, obviously, in Canada and our borders and we're considered closed, but we're not, you have to be strategic and plan and prepare for quarantine, unless you can get an exemption. How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your firm or the way you practice immigration law?

Dustin O'Quinn:
It's almost exactly the same, Evelyn. As I mentioned before, the US and Canada, and to a lesser extent Mexico, a lot of the immigration laws operate similarly. We have the US-Canada-Mexico agreement and formerly NAFTA, and we've seen the exact same things happening with COVID. Understandably, governments were like, "Let's close down our borders. At least temporarily." But as you said, they're not completely closed. We have found that when there is a need for a person or for a company to get people to come into the United States, that we've been able to meet that need. We've been able to demonstrate that need, with your help, thank you, with those national interest exceptions or those special exceptions about the type of work. But it is a lot of figuring out what that need is, getting the documentation, when companies are already going through so much.

Dustin O'Quinn:
I just thought of you, because I had a conversation with a Canadian Immigration Border Agent, just because we wanted to make sure we had all the right documentation. And that agent said, "I want to be direct with you, the guidance that we're getting changes every single day." So be flexible and be patient, but if you can demonstrate your need to come into Canada or to go to the US, then we should be able to work with you, but you've got to check the guidelines.

Evelyn Ackah:
It's true. I mean, we're finding it's easier to go to the States. We still have a number of clients doing the port of entry TNs and the NAFTA Ls at the port of entry, without any issues. I mean, there's no, like, "What are you going to do about quarantining? What's your plan for this?" So it obviously feels differently because we're still behind on some of our COVID vaccinations, whereas it seems like the US is moving further, faster. It seems easier now and so more and more people, just from your interest level, you should know, we're getting more and more Canadians saying, "We're done. We want to move our company to the US. We just are tired of all the taxes." Or, "We want to live in Texas," for whatever, your political or affiliation or family relationship.

Evelyn Ackah:
So it's been interesting that we're getting those calls now, where they're just kind of like, up with the hands, we're moving to the States. So it's going to be an interesting year or two, I think, to see how things unfold. I'm obviously interested to see what's going to happen with President Biden in terms of USMCA L-1s at the port of entry. Which, that affected us from the ability to renew, so then we have to work with our colleagues in the States, such as yourself, to help us because we can't do very much any longer at the port of entry. Have you heard anything about that? I feel like you might have the inside source. I need to know.

Dustin O'Quinn:
Yeah, Evelyn, there are a lot of recommended rules in the drafting stage of the law process right now and it seems like there's a lot that's on hold. A lot of the lawmaking and rulemaking that happened in the latter half of 2020 was put on hold. And I'm optimistically happy about that, or I'm cautiously optimistic about that, because I do believe that President Biden, here in the United States, and his administration are taking a realistic and comprehensive approach at immigration. But what that means, Evelyn, is that so many specific decisions that we want right now, on those smaller scales... From our practice, that would be an easy fix, right? It was like, you were doing great before-

Evelyn Ackah:
Just do it again.

Dustin O'Quinn:
Just do it again. Just kind of swing that pendulum back the other way. But those things are happening on a smaller scale. I'm very interested to see ... You mentioned so many Canadians moving to the US, we are seeing that. And that also seems like a pendulum swing from what we've seen the last five or six years, with so many United States people moving to Canada.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah.

Dustin O'Quinn:
There's just a huge uptake, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest. We saw so many companies from Seattle and Oregon and Idaho move to Canada because, from an immigration perspective, it was just too hard to get the right amount of employees here in the US or to get them here quickly enough. So we saw them open offices in Canada and they were like, "Hey, this is great. We're going to do business here for a while." And now, as you mentioned, we're starting to see a little bit of the opposite.

Evelyn Ackah:
Really? That's so interesting, because I remember a few years ago it was, with some of the changes with former president Trump, and it was becoming harder for H-1Bs and Green Cards and, as we know, some really highly skilled people to stay and extend their status or get Green Card status. And so there was a big offshoring, nearshoring, kind of initiatives to bring branches and subsidiaries to Canada. And that's still happening, but I don't feel that same fervor of, "Oh, we got to go." Because some of them are feeling like, "We'll just hedge our bets because maybe things will start moving faster now in the Green Card process." Or some of them who came, are now going back again, because they have a sense that they will get their Green Card status. So it's been an interesting few years. Yeah.

Dustin O'Quinn:
That's right. It's really complicated when you think about it. People are being very strategic with their life plans, which is of course admirable, but it does make the mobility, especially across our border, pretty difficult to predict.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, I agree. So tell me about E-visas, you do them there at Lane Powell and those are the investor visas, the equivalent. What I'm seeing when we work with our colleagues in the US who do this, is dealing with the delays at the US Embassy. What are you seeing? Because I had somebody today, for instance, would have been a great referral. And I said, "You need to know, if you want to move in June this year, that's not happening under an E. And we have to connect you with our E-person and then maybe you do an L until you can get where you need to be." Because I think I've heard the embassy's not even booking appointments, at least Toronto, this year. Apparently.

Dustin O'Quinn:
That's absolutely right, Evelyn. So just as a little bit of background, the E-2 investor visa is a non-immigrant visa, so it's not like a Green Card. There is an investor Green Card, and there we're talking about investing a million dollars or more into the United States. Let's put a pin in that and not talk about that right now. But the E-2 is an interesting one because it has historically been a great way for business people to come to the United States and start or continue their business operations here. You're absolutely right, it's difficult because first, usually the E-2 visa application must be done at the embassy. That means that that application is being filed with, and being reviewed by, the Department of State. And that's rare, because most of our immigration status petitions are, at least first, if not completely, filed with and reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Dustin O'Quinn:
So we usually send almost all of our applications, except for the E, to USCIS, that's immigration service. Immigration service will say, "Look, we rolled up our sleeves and we did the work and we decided you're eligible for this visa. Now you can go to the embassy and get a visa." And the embassy's like, "Well, Homeland Security USCIS said you're good, so you can come on in." It's definitely not that simple, but that's kind of what it is. But for that E, you're filing the entire application with the Department of State. So that means they are looking for two things, they're looking for your eligibility to enter the country, which they always look at, but they're actually looking at your eligibility for that particular status, which is usually done by USCIS.

Dustin O'Quinn:
And beyond that, the Department of State, they're pretty tough, but the E-2 is also a very lengthy application. There's a lot to prove, there's a lot to show, and nothing in immigration is black and white.

Dustin O'Quinn:
So you're right, we're talking about sending a lot of documents to a very busy Department of State. And what you're seeing right now, that long delay, Evelyn, is in part because of all of the embassy closures that we saw in early and mid 2020 because of COVID. So those embassies are kind of backlogged with all of the people who were intending to come to the US between March of last year and now. And it's not just Es, it's the H-1s, and some of the Ls, and the other visa types where people got their status approved from Homeland Security first, and then they had to go get their visa from the embassy. So the embassy has to deal with that and then they have to stop that rotation and deal with these pretty hefty, lengthy E-2 applications.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yeah, yeah I can imagine.

Dustin O'Quinn:
We're seeing them either December of 2021 or into 2022. Good news. I'll finish with this. The good news is they are starting to pick up, but it is different from embassy to embassy and consulate to consulate. Remember, there are embassies all over the world that are doing E-2s, there are a couple in Canada, but they're all sort of reporting up to the National Department of State. So we are, knock on wood, hoping that in a couple of months, we'll start to see those visa appointments get in a little earlier.

Evelyn Ackah:
I hope so. We even had, on our end, one of our clients wanted a visitor visa to visit the US. Mexican citizens here working, legally, everything is good, and wanting to go to the States for a family wedding. So they needed their US visa and they just keep getting pushed back. So now the wedding has been pushed back because they have no idea when they're actually going to be able to get in. And it's been frustrating because as a lawyer, you're like, "We know the process to fill in the forms to help you, but we can't help you when it comes to the booking and confirming the appointments. And if they changed them because it's not an emergency or it's not urgent, there's nothing we can do." Have you seen that too?

Dustin O'Quinn:
We've seen that exactly, Evelyn. We've seen appointments get scheduled and then moved by the embassy itself, which is something that was really rare before COVID. And this is after the embassy saying, "No, we don't have any appointments. No, we have no appointments. Okay, maybe if you can prove this is an emergency, we'll get you an appointment. Okay, we accept your documentation. We think this is urgent, so we'll schedule the appointment." And then two days before, "We're pushing this appointment back by three weeks."

Evelyn Ackah:
My God.

Dustin O'Quinn:
And you're right, we're the attorneys and counselors at law for our clients, and we want to be able to provide a little bit of substance and a little security for them regarding what this process is going to look like. But there's so much up in the air right now.

Evelyn Ackah:
Exactly. You know it. Tell me about H-1Bs this year. So how is that looking? I know the lottery and everything has been finished, are you finding still the same crazy volume of people are looking for Hs? Or do you think things changed in the last year or two? With the politics.

Dustin O'Quinn:
[crosstalk 00:18:46] really interesting that we haven't seen the volume go up as much as we thought we did for H-1B applications. But we also haven't seen it gone down, which is really interesting, given the effects of COVID worldwide. In its background, the H-1B is a fantastic visa option for-

Evelyn Ackah:
If you can get it.

Dustin O'Quinn:
If you can get it. Great work if you can get it. Employers who want to have a professional level employee or someone with at least a bachelor's degree or its equivalent come to the US to work, can file for an H-1B. Now if someone already has an H-1B for you or any other company in the US, that's not what we're talking about. That's actually pretty easy to transfer or to extend, which is nice. But if someone's never had an H-1B, usually we're talking about someone in the US on a student visa, who's graduated, and now they want to work with this company for a few years as an employee. There's only 85,000 spots for new H-1Bs every year, but we're seeing, Evelyn ... If I can think back for the last 10 years or so, almost every year there's between 200 and even 300,000 applications. So you're looking at somewhere between 200 and 300,000 applications for 85,000 spots.

Dustin O'Quinn:
So, as you mentioned, the government executes a lottery. They literally run a lottery, not based on how great the application is or how great the employee is, but it's a random lottery. They take all 250 or so thousand of those applications and then they assign a number to them, and then they have an electronic system and they pick 85,000 of those applications to review and hopefully approve.

Dustin O'Quinn:
And so, Evelyn, you mentioned, in COVID we thought that we would see the applications gone down. Actually, last year, right before COVID, the government changed the process. They made it a good deal easier and cheaper for employers to enter an employee into the lottery. So we thought we were going to see the numbers up. Well, if you don't have to pay a lawyer and send in $2,500 in fees, you just pay the government a $10 fee to enter that employee into the lottery.

Evelyn Ackah:
It went down that much?

Dustin O'Quinn:
It went done that much. The whole process changed. Right? And so now, if I'm an employer, I think this is fantastic. I'm going to enter the person in the lottery, which is a lot less work, pay a $10 fee, then if they're selected, then we have to submit the full application.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, of course.

Dustin O'Quinn:
In prior years, you have to send a full application with the fees to even be considered for the lottery. So that process is great and we thought we were going to see so many more people apply and we didn't. So the H-1B process has held pretty steady, as far as the number of applicants. What's sad, is it shows demand, right? The industry demands between two and 300,000 applications per year. And though the United States Congress has the power to change that number based on demand, they've been holding strong at 85,000 for the last 10 years or so.

Evelyn Ackah:
I don't understand that. So for instance, Dustin, if you get in ... I mean, that's the thing is, you don't know if you're going to get in. So if you get in and you get selected, then you do the rest. And now, given COVID, are their employees actually able to come here? Let's say they're not students, are they able to get here? Or are they still stuck in the visa process? Let's say, in India.

Dustin O'Quinn:
That's a great question, Evelyn, because last year, one of the many executive orders that our former president Trump signed was actually halting people who are outside of the US and who didn't already have an H-1B visa, from coming into the US. So there were people, perhaps, who were affected, if you were outside the United States and your company entered you into the lottery and you were selected, and then you were ready to come here in October when the approval was there, you couldn't. Because that visa ban was still available.

Dustin O'Quinn:
Evelyn, that didn't affect as many people as we thought. Most H-1B employees are actually already here working for their H-1B sponsor employer. As I mentioned, usually you graduate from a US university with a student visa. That, in almost every case, gives you at least one year of work authorization. A blanket work authorization. That one year of work authorization allows you to stay in the US and work for a company and then that company will sponsor you for an H-1B for that continued employment. So that's how most of the applications go.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's great.

Dustin O'Quinn:
So we didn't find a lot of people were stuck outside the United States. So that was-

Evelyn Ackah:
But what happens for the student who moves to OPT, I guess that's what it's called, for that one year of work authorization and they don't get the H-1B that first year? What happens?

Dustin O'Quinn:
Evelyn, that's the million dollar question. So if you graduate and then you get the OPT, as Evelyn mentioned, which is that one year of work authorization and it's great. Okay. And then your company says, "Yes, we'll do an H-1B for you and we want you to stay forever." And you say, "Great, so do I." And then the company enters you into a lottery, but you're not one of those 85,000 chosen, then that one year of work authorization expiration date, which is usually about a year after you graduate. So we're looking at June, and you will know by then that you didn't make it into the lottery.

Dustin O'Quinn:
So what happens? Your options are few. It's either leave the United States, stop working that company and go back to your home country, or go back to school. If you really want to be in the United States, if your goal is just to be in the United States, and have a long-term work authorization, go back to school for another level. If you graduated with a bachelor's, go get a master's, because at the end of that master's program, you can get another OPT. If you graduated the master's, maybe enrolled in a PhD program, because at the end of that you can get another OPT. These are big decisions we're talking -

Evelyn Ackah:
Of course, of course.

Dustin O'Quinn:
Right? Enrolling in school, but so often -

Evelyn Ackah:
Spending all that money-

Dustin O'Quinn:
All that money, all that time, all that studying.

Evelyn Ackah:
I know. That's incredible.

Dustin O'Quinn:
But Evelyn, that gives you a couple of options. While you're in school, that company can still apply for an H-1B for you again the next year. If you get the H-1B the next year, based on your bachelor's, you could drop out of your master's program and start working with that company. Another option is, we talked about the E-2 earlier. When I graduated college, I didn't have a hundred thousand dollars to invest in a business, but if you're from a country that has a E-2 treaty with the US, like Canada does, then you could invest in a company and get here on an E-2. But other than leaving the United States, investing in a company, going to another university, and maybe a couple of other options that we recommend you talk about with a US immigration lawyer, there aren't many options if you don't make it in the lottery.

Evelyn Ackah:
What we saw in the last few years was when people who didn't get into the lottery, they would set up a branch in Canada and say, "Go there and keep working for us." We would transfer them, for instance, into Canada with the sub- or branch, just to give them that time. And that's what I'm saying, we had all the people here, and then as soon as they won the next lottery, some of them were back again, heading back to the US knowing that they had H-1B locked up, or they were getting closer to Green Card, whatever the state of things. But it's hard. The life of an immigrant, when we think about it, we're all immigrants on some level, however we got here, but it's the idea that life can be so transitional.

Evelyn Ackah:
And I think you and I both have that sense of empathy for our clients, because no matter how secure we are and successful, whatever that means, we seem to put ourselves in our client's shoes. Because whether you're the president of a company, you have family coming with you, you need to get them all comfortable and settled, and everybody needs to feel secure. And if the immigration part isn't secure, then nothing is going to feel certain. You know what I mean?

Dustin O'Quinn:
Absolutely.

Evelyn Ackah:
So I think we both bring that value of empathy and real sympathy and support. We're here for you, because it's not just a work permit, it's the life of the person.

Dustin O'Quinn:
It's your life. It's your livelihood. You know, Evelyn, I agree 100% with what you said and I do feel for my client. Something else that's come up in the United States in the last few years that I just ... It almost breaks my heart. When we deal with corporate immigration, there are certain processes where we have all these dates and deadlines. You can't file a renewal before this date, the government is taking longer -

Evelyn Ackah:
To process.

Dustin O'Quinn:
They're taking longer than your current expiration, so people are having to go off of payroll. People are having to stop working for their company. Sometimes you can stay in the US and stop working. Sometimes, like you said, we need to send you to Canada for a few months and have you stop working, but that is so disruptive to your life. More importantly, that's disruptive to your income. I mean, can you imagine even just two months of one spouse or the other, or both in some cases, not being able to work with the job that they have and make that money. It's heartbreaking and I'm glad that we're seeing a little bit less of that.

Evelyn Ackah:
I'm glad too. Tell me, Dustin, about what you do at Lane Powell in terms of audits and compliance, because this is a big part of immigration too. The other side of not just getting here, but then making sure that everybody's in compliance with all that they said they were going to do when they brought the foreign worker in. How do you provide that support and service? What do you do?

Dustin O'Quinn:
Sure. That's good, Evelyn. That's something that our clients don't think about that often, but we're doing a lot of work on the backend to make sure that our clients are compliant and sometimes they don't even know. There's so much paperwork involved with the US immigration process and there's so many dates. And when we're talking to our corporate clients, and even the employees, we're all focused on that one day. We think the end goal is the start date. When can they start, and let's work our way backwards and figure out everything we have to do for them to be able to start working. But there are document retention regulations, and there are guidelines about when and where and how to retain documents and to send information to the government.

Dustin O'Quinn:
So we have a pretty sophisticated electronic filing process, and it helps us keep track of the dates, but then also the information that we have to either stay on top of ourself or that we have to share with the client. And so a couple of times a year, we are running reports and we're tracking those dates, and we're advising our clients on the Form I-9 and on the Department of Labor Wage and Hour requirements and on other document retention requirements. And so thank goodness for technology and reports systems that we can check in with our clients a few times a year and let them know what they need to do.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's great. So speaking about technology, how does Lane Powell implement technology? Like you, I've come from big, big firm and then I started my own firm, but no matter what, technology is important. But I think sometimes when you have a practice that may not be the main practice at a big firm, sometimes you're not sure if they understand even what you do, except you save them. You save their clients, you make them look good, right? That's when they know what immigration does. But do you utilize a lot of technology and innovation in your practice? How has it changed in the last, let's say 10 years?

Dustin O'Quinn:
We do, Evelyn, and that's a great question. And you're absolutely right, I love that Lane Powell is what we call a full-service law firm. So we do almost anything that you could think of for companies. Any way that a company needs a lawyer, we will be able to handle that for you. And it's not that common that firms like mine have pretty big immigration practices, so we're fortunate that we do utilize immigration-specific software in addition to the other firm software. So we've got firm-wide software that tracks all kinds of dates for us, but then we have really sophisticated immigration software that we allow our clients to use as much or as little as they like.

Dustin O'Quinn:
So for example, if you're a larger corporate client and you've got dozens of employees, or even hundreds of employees on visa status, then they typically really like access to our software. So we can send you a report, we can give you any information you want to, but you, as the HR contact, will be able to log-in and with the click of two buttons, you can run your own report. Or you can log-in and look up those dates yourself to see when John Doe's visa expires or what country John Doe was born in. But, Evelyn, we love our small clients as well and we work with individuals. And we have people who are like, "Please send me a Microsoft Word document and I'm going to print it out and I'm going to write it with a pen and send it back to you." That is wonderful as well. We are flexible and we can work with you in any way that works for you.

Evelyn Ackah:
We do the same. We do the same. Oh my goodness. Yeah, some clients prefer paper and pen and we try to accommodate them, but technology certainly helps speed up all of the systems so you can focus on the hard stuff and the real client focused work.

Dustin O'Quinn:
That's right.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's really important. I have a couple more questions. What about dual citizenship in the States? I know, from what I understand, they don't really recognize other citizenships, but have you seen any problems or changes with that? People can still come in and have two or three other citizenships?

Dustin O'Quinn:
For sure. Actually, the way that ... I put a positive spin on the US's dual citizenship standpoint. You're right, so the US doesn't recognize dual citizenship in the sense that they don't see any additional benefits from being a citizen of, for example, both Canada and the US But they do recognize that you're a citizen of Canada and also that you're a citizen of the US. So they do recognize that and that's fantastic. And what that means is if you want to be a citizen of Canada or Canada and three other places, the US is not going to make you relinquish your US citizenship. It just means that all they really care about is that you're a US citizen.

Dustin O'Quinn:
So from a US citizen standpoint, these are your duties, these are your requirements, and also here are your privileges.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, for sure.

Dustin O'Quinn:
We haven't seen any big changes with that, but we work with so many dual citizens, Evelyn, I would love to bring up one little anecdote and tell you something. There are lots of people in the United States who are lawful permanent residents. That means they're allowed to reside here permanently, but they're not quite as citizen. One of the only differences is that lawful permanent residents can't vote in the US. And so many people ask, why do they choose to stay permanent residents and not become a citizen of the US?

Dustin O'Quinn:
And here's the distinction with that dual citizenship, if you are a citizen of Canada, for example, and a lawful permanent resident in the United States, and you're living in the US forever. Let's say you get into some trouble with maybe the FBI or the IRS, some pretty big trouble. Canada can swoop in and say, "We have certain protections because this is a citizen of Canada." But if you're a dual citizen, if you're a citizen of Canada and the United States, Canada is going to say, "Hey, guy, we are glad that you're a citizen, but you're also a citizen of the US, so we're going to let the US do what they want to do to you, we're not going to swoop in and protect you."

Dustin O'Quinn:
Now, Evelyn, we don't have that many people, thank goodness, who are in major trouble with the IRS or the FBI, but that's kind of the little distinction that we see there.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's very interesting. So you know that I have a son that's dual, I got to think about that now. When he's older, he's only 10. But I think there's a point in time I think, there's taxes and other things for them to think about. But one of the last questions I want to ask you, Dustin, is about Requests for Evidence. How is that affecting your practice? Are you seeing more RFEs from the USCIS, which then slows down everything, or are things getting better? I just have no sense of that.

Dustin O'Quinn:
Evelyn, you said a mouthful. I would say US immigration lawyers, as a whole, in the entire United States and the other countries who serve the United States for immigration law, our practice changed immensely in 2017. The percentage of Requests for Evidence shot up more than double in almost every single case type. And this affected the cost and the timeline of getting people employed in the United States and their start date and extensions. It was a mess, for lack of a better term, it was a hodgepodge of red tape. Most of those Requests for Evidence, at least from our practice, we submit really strong applications. And so it was all the more frustrating to get this request when it's like, sure, we can make another legal argument, we can even maybe present some more evidence, but you know that there is a standard of proof and there's a standard of evidence, and we've more than surpassed that standard.

Evelyn Ackah:
For sure.

Dustin O'Quinn:
So to answer your question, we are so pleased to report that just in the last couple of months, we do see Requests for Evidence going down.

Evelyn Ackah:
Oh good.

Dustin O'Quinn:
I thank Department of Homeland Security so much for giving deference to previous petitions. So, for example, if you were on an H-1B before, and we approved that application before, we're at least going to consider the fact that we approved it before, when doing your extension. But for the last few years, there was actually guidance in place that said, "We are not going to look at your previous application. In fact, we are not going to even consider. We don't care that you had it approved before. We're looking at everything from scratch, and we're going to give you a new Request for Evidence." That's a practice that we're seeing going down, but it's still not as far down as it was before 2017. So we're talking to our clients and we're giving them hope that we see that light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have to be patient and flexible with start dates and timelines and getting people here into the US.

Evelyn Ackah:
My goodness. Well, before we wrap up, I just want to ask you, how big is your group at Lane Powell that you are heading up in the immigration department?

Dustin O'Quinn:
Sure. We've got five immigration attorneys now. We're in the process of growing, so I think our website is going to look different in the near future. We have three immigration paralegals, and again, are growing, and we have a couple of legal assistants and we use everyone. We really take a team approach because, as you know, the law is so complicated right now. We're all kind of novices because we're all just dealing with what the government is throwing at us. But we're so pleased to be able to take that opportunity to look at the new guidance and look at the new laws and then also rely on our wealth of experience to come up with the best strategy for our clients. And we know that six heads are better than one.

Evelyn Ackah:
Yes, I always say, bring all the brains together in one room, even if it's virtual, and try to find the answer. That is fabulous. So if people want to reach out to you or have immigration questions or corporations that want to discuss their needs with you at Lane Powell, Dustin, how should they contact you? What's the best way?

Dustin O'Quinn:
Sure. There's two amazing ways to contact me. It's email, which is oquinnd@lanepowell.com. That's O-Q-U-I-N-N-D at L-A-N-E-P-O-W-E-L-L dot com. And I can also be reached directly by telephone at (206) 223-7949.

Evelyn Ackah:
That's great. Thank you so much, Dustin, for joining me on Ask Canadian Immigration Lawyer Evelyn Ackah Podcast, very long name. But the thing about the podcast is it lets me interview people that I really admire and respect and that I work with and for me to be able to shine a light on all the great work you're doing with your team at Lane Powell. I really appreciate your time. Thank you for joining us.

Dustin O'Quinn:
I love the podcast, Evelyn, and I'm so excited to be on it. Thank you for having me.

Evelyn Ackah:
Thank you so much.

Dustin O'Quinn:
All right. Bye-bye.


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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I have had the pleasure of working with Evelyn Ackah on various immigration, LMIA, permanent residency and border issues for the past seven years. Evelyn and her team are the ultimate resources for any employer seeking to navigate the ever changing legal climate in a timely and professional manner. Evelyn’s wealth of knowledge, experience and industry connections coupled with her ability to simplify complex legal processes have made her my ‘go-to’ resource for all issues pertaining to business immigration.

– Eileen Marley, Human Resources Business Partner - Corporate and Concord

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