Georgia law firms are seeing an increase in immigrant demand due to a change in work visa policy

Some Atlanta-area immigration offices have hired more attorneys to meet increased demand as employers continue to adjust to federal immigration guidelines, which the Biden administration has relaxed since 2021.

Both Fisher & Phillips and Kuck Baxter Immigration, for example, have seen a 30% increase in the number of their work-related immigration clients since 2021.

Shanon Stevenson, the Atlanta-based co-chair of Fisher & Phillips’ national immigration practice, said the firm has increased its staff and more than doubled the number of attorneys it has on staff for the firm, noting that the Workload has increased since the end of the Biden administration The previous administration took numerous initiatives to slow the flow of migrant workers under the H-1B visa program.

Foreign workers seeking employment in the United States in specialized occupations such as engineering or science must obtain an H-1B visa, which has a congressional limit of 85,000.

“We’ve definitely seen growth, not just in the visa work – obtaining visas for foreigners who are in the country or abroad – but also in the compliance work, where we deal with the internal immigration policies and practices (of the customer) and we want to make sure everything is done right,” said Stevenson.

Greenberg Traurig’s immigration practice has also been “continuously busy” working with companies that file H-1B visa applications since early 2021, said Courtney Noce, co-chair of the immigration and compliance practice.

political changes

Two particular changes to the H-1B program since 2021 have been critical for employers looking for workers for professional positions, particularly in the STEM fields, Stevenson said: a shift in the approval process, which significantly reduced the rejection rate, and the US Customs Immigration Services (USCIS) processes a higher percentage of employment-related visas.

According to libertarian think tank The Cato Institute, during the Trump administration, USCIS lifted the policy of relying on a previous ruling involving the same facts and parties to decide whether to allow an H-1B visa application a surge in denials and requests for evidence at trial. However, in April 2021, after the Biden administration took office, USCIS reinstated the policy of deferring an earlier verdict.

According to USCIS, the H-1B rejection rate and evidence requests fell from 29% in December 2020 in the last month of the previous administration to 7% in June 2022.

Cato also reported that the previous administration did not process a significant percentage of employment-related green card cap positions in 2020 and 2021. It said the lack of editing was due to a higher cap, but also to “willful sabotage by the Trump administration and poor implementation by the Biden administration.”

But in 2022, USCIS processed the largest number ever, at 279,000 — doubling the number in 2017, Cato reported. That number increased to 483,927 in fiscal 2023 and 780,884 in fiscal 2024.

regulatory hurdles

Stevenson said a major challenge to Foster & Phillips’ immigration practice is that “the government relies on regulations that are very outdated” — such as requiring employers to place notices in printed publications asking if American employees can do the same work as an employee foreigners who seek permanent residence in the United States. Professionals typically look for employment online rather than in print publications, she said.

Another major challenge is staying abreast of “frequent and complex” changes in state and federal laws that immigrant employers and entrepreneurs face, Stevenson said.

She said a new law requires the state of Florida, effective July 1, to require private employers with at least 25 employees to use the digital immigration verification tool E-Verify during the onboarding process.

Employers are also finding it difficult to comply with such changes as the government is making to adapt to the end of the pandemic. For example, on July 31, USCIS will no longer allow online Form I-9 employment eligibility checks and will again require in-person document checks for foreign employees, Stevenson said.

Some employers have hired more than 5,000 employees since 2020, she said.

“Now we are advising many of our employers on how to deal with the I-9s that were completed during COVID,” she said.

strategic planning

At Greenberg Traurig, Noce said she expects her practice to continue to grow as she faces an increasingly complex legal environment driven by demand for talent as well as the lack of comprehensive federal reform of immigration policies related to employment-related visas .

She said the immigration system has not kept pace with visa demand and her firm’s immigration practice sees a demand “for that high-level, strategic planning work and compliance.”

Noce said employers who expect some areas to find it harder to hire workers need to start planning how to retain those workers – and her team of immigration attorneys and staff have identified an increased need for strategies to do this .

“The need for strategic planning has increased, and that’s impacting the way we train our team members,” she said.

The Atlanta-based practice leader said her team also has the advantage of being able to draw on the skills of the firm’s specialized attorneys in the US, Europe and Asia when issues arise.