All countries place restrictions on foreigners entering, living and working in the country and impose penalties on those who do not comply with these restrictions. When a person wishes to travel to another country – whether for business, work abroad, study or permanent residence – they will be confronted with the immigration laws of the destination country. It is the immigration attorney’s job to help individuals, their families, and their employers navigate the complex set of rules, applications, and regulatory procedures that dictate the immigration process.

Immigration law is divided into two basic areas: Family-based immigration is the process by which a person is sponsored by a spouse, parent, or other eligible family member for permanent residency in a foreign country. Business immigration is the process by which individuals can obtain temporary or permanent residency in a foreign country on the basis of employment, self-employment, or investment.

Immigration practice is not limited to foreign nationals entering the United States. Rather, a full-service immigration firm has expertise in many jurisdictions. One of the most important aspects of this practice is the ability to support multinational companies with the mobility of their global workforce – whether it be to help a German executive get permission to visit China for an important business meeting or to visit a British company HELP wants to hire a leading US scientist to lead its R&D efforts.

Advice from an immigration attorney is particularly important in the employment context. Most countries impose strict restrictions on the ability of non-citizens to work to protect their native workers. In many cases, a company wishing to hire a foreigner must obtain approval from both immigration and labor authorities – a complex process that requires the sure hand of a lawyer experienced in the practice before all relevant government agencies.

The immigration attorney’s work does not stop when visas and other government approvals are obtained. Once an individual enters a foreign country, they, family members and employers may face important compliance responsibilities, from registering with local police, tax or social security authorities to reporting to government agencies. Failure to comply with these obligations may result in fines, penalties and restrictions on an individual’s future travel or an employer’s ability to sponsor additional foreign nationals. The advice of an immigration attorney is vital throughout a person’s stay abroad.

In our global economy, the ability to move across international borders has never been more important for professionals and their employers – and the role of immigration attorneys has never been more important to global mobility.