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Lokvani Talks To Jan Albrecht - Immigration Attorney


Jan Albrecht is a solo attorney and principal of Albrecht Immigration Strategies, PC. based in Cambridge, MA and specializing in all areas of employment and family-based immigration. Jan has a Bachelor's degree in literary studies from Middlebury College in VT and a law degree from Suffolk University Law School in Boston. He is admitted to practice in Massachusetts by the Supreme Judicial Court and also admitted with the Massachusetts Federal court. Originally from Moscow, Russia, Jan immigrated to the US in 1988. Not including the US and Russia, Jan has lived in 3 other countries and visited many others. Combining over 12 years of experience as an immigration paralegal for top law firms, as a principal of a paralegal services business with a nationwide client base of immigration attorneys, and as an attorney in private practice, Jan is working with individuals, businesses, non-profits, government agencies, as well as other immigration attorneys and law firms. As a paralegal, Jan worked for attorney Rodney Barker, who is considered an authority on religious worker visas; served as a legal assistant for Susan Cohen, a prominent employment immigration attorney and the founder and head of the immigration department at Mintz Levin et al., a large multinational law firm; and assisted dozens of other leading immigration attorneys nationwide as an independent contractor, gaining unique practical experience in the field before even considering law school and independent practice. 

Jan is available during normal business hours and after hours and on weekends if necessary, though he only meets with clients by appointment. Jan is probably one of very few local attorneys who offers consultations with clients outside of the office, after hours, or on weekends for no additional charge. He consults clients on the telephone, via email, text messaging, IM, Skype, at his office, at their office, at their house, or wherever it is convenient, including the nearest Starbucks. Jan is probably one of very few attorneys whose regular paying clients include other established immigration attorneys and law firms who hire him in an of counsel capacity to consult them and assist them in resolving complex cases for their own clients. His own client roster ranges from individuals and small businesses to major corporations and government agencies. 

Any recent changes in immigration laws? 

Sure. I can think of a few. The removal of a ground of inadmissibility for HIV is one. The removal of the so-called "widow penalty," significantly easing the conditions for surviving spouses of deceased US citizens to apply for permanent residence. These are significant changes to the existing legislation with far reaching implications. Other than that, things are getting worse, not better. The severe retrogression of immigration visa priority dates, particularly felt by clients from India, China, Mexico and the Philippines; the increased scrutiny and audits of H1B petitions filed by small businesses; the permanent labor certification backlogs returning to their pre-PERM levels; the general increase in the arbitrary and often misguided enforcement efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Infrastructure investment in the US CIS and the Department of Labor (DOL) is achieving the opposite effect. They hire more examiners but they don't train them well. They redesign the US CIS website and increase filing fees but they don't make meaningful improvements in customer service. They consolidate US DOL filings through i-Cert portal but the results have been disastrous so far. These are all cosmetic and political changes where rhetoric seems to be more important than action and form more important than substance. Everybody is waiting for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform but President Obama seems to have other priorities at the moment. I don't expect anything good to happen on that front in the next 1-2 years. 

What are the various services you offer? Do you specialize in any particularly or have an expertise? 

The services I offer are listed on the WORK page of my site: http://www.immigrationado.com/work.html. I specialize primarily in employment and family-based immigration. Specifically, this includes obtaining all types of nonimmigrant visas, permanent alien labor certifications, immigrant visa petitions and permanent residence applications for all family and employment preference categories, waivers, appeals, motions, as well as naturalization and everything in between. The range and depth of my expertise in employment and family immigration are fairly broad. However, permanent alien labor certifications for skilled workers and professionals, work visas, such as H1B, L-1, E-1/E-2, TN, O-1 and others, as well as immigrant visa petitions for aliens of extraordinary ability, multinational managers and executives, national interest waivers, and appeals are the areas where I tend to concentrate the most. I would say my number one specialty has always been problem solving. I often take cases where other lawyers have failed and turn them around. 

Why do clients need immigration attorneys for most services? Can they also get information online?

Information is plentiful indeed but good analysis and sound judgment are always in short supply. Information should be free. My commitment to providing good information is evident when you look at various info graphic charts posted on my website. I want my clients to be well-informed because it makes it easier for me to work with them and explain their options. The information gap between lawyers and consumers has narrowed to the point where there is hardly any gap remaining. On the flip side, the abundance of information has created a false sense of security in some people. Yes, we all have access to the same information but the difference between you and me is that I know how to work with it and what to do with it and you don't. Think of it this way. You can look up almost any recipe on the Internet but does this mean you can compete with an experienced chef? You can look up the exact procedure for replacing your car's transmission but does this mean you can compete with an experienced mechanic? You can now look up any legal statute and regulation online in minutes but does this mean you can apply them to your set of facts? The irony is that those who can least afford the risk of doing it themselves are the ones who are doing it themselves. And more often than not these experiments end badly for them and their families. So unless you can tolerate enormous risks to your employment and family stability and can financially afford to bear the consequences of your mistakes, or unless you simply don't care about the outcome, I would not recommend it. The odds are not in your favor.  

What are the qualifications that one must look for in a successful attorney?

The decision about hiring a lawyer should be rational, not emotional. Too often people make these decisions by paying attention to all the wrong things. I think one should look for the same qualities in an immigration lawyer as you would look for in your mechanic or contractor: experience, diligence, and honesty. Experience is king -- there is no substitute for it. As for diligence and honesty these are innate traits -- people either have them or they don't. I actually think that in many ways law practice is a trade that pretends to be a profession. Law degree is overrated. The public often views a law degree as if it were a membership in an elite society whose members regardless of their abilities can make things happen. The truth is that the threshold for admission is actually low and the prestige is inflated. Law schools merely teach a certain set of rudimentary skills. The difference between these schools is mostly in networking opportunities. So I would suggest not paying too much attention to attorney's education, professional memberships, so called “professional ratings,” which are nothing more than misleading marketing tricks. Those attorneys who highlight these items on their resume usually have nothing else to show. Ask your lawyer about his experience with a specific type of case (yours) Ask a specific question requiring a specific answer ("it depends" is not an answer). Learn to read between the lines. Watch out for lawyers who behave like used car salesmen, trying to sell you the most expensive item on their menu without any regard for your actual needs or your budget. Be skeptical about the perceived value of published testimonials as they are often misleading. As for attorneys fees, just as with any other service, when the fee is too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of lawyers whose only viable selling point is their low fee -- they either don't value their work because it is done poorly or they don't value you as a client because they have enough "volume." It can be comforting when your lawyer comes from the same country that you come from or speaks your language. Likewise, it can be convenient if the lawyer's office is located in your neighborhood. That they come from your country or speak your language doesn't make someone a good lawyer. That their office is conveniently located in your neighborhood is hardly a good reason to restrict your potential choices. Nowadays, many immigration cases cost a lot of money, take years from start to finish, and complications abound at each stage of the process. You want to find a lawyer you can trust; someone with whom you can envision a long working relationship; someone who will never put his personal interests above his client's interests.

Within your practice give us some samples of the kinds of immigration issues that come to you personally and are fairly common among your clients?

I'll just describe the cases I have worked on during the past week. I think this would be a fairly representative sample. A long and involved naturalization interview with a senior US CIS examiner at the Boston District Office for a client with a criminal record whose previous application was denied for alleged fraud and misrepresentation. Application approved. A long legal brief in response to a notice of intent to revoke for an immigrant visa petition prepared by another attorney. PERM application for an employee of a non-profit organization. Lots of difficult issues. H1B visa application problem at the US Consulate in Caracas. Problem solved; visa issued. Passport application denial appeal to the US Department of State. Got a call from the Passport Agency supervisor. The case presented a unique set of facts but they agreed with my interpretation of the applicable law and will reconsider their decision upon receipt of additional evidence. Immigrant visa petition for an alien of extraordinary ability in the field of news photography. Preparing the petition for filing in the next few weeks. An H1B extension approval for a case which had to be filed almost a month after the expiration of the client's nonimmigrant status. Extension approved despite the late filing. Researching a complex fact pattern on qualified investment for an E-2 visa application involving the owner of multiple hotel properties. All this not including calls and emails with random questions from prospective and existing clients and attorney colleagues. It's been a long week!

When not actually practicing law, Jan is always thinking about ways to make his work more interesting and fulfilling to himself and more useful to his clients. Some of Jan's creative ideas on immigration law practice and his innovative immigration law info graphics can be seen at his website www.immigrationado.com. Jan's employment immigration chart was recently featured on Six Revisions, a popular design blog, under its"40 useful and creative info graphics" rubric  
http://sixrevisions.com/graphics-design/40-useful-and-creative-infographics/  see # 39). Jan's article on the PERM and his map of the alien labor certification process were recently featured in the Immigration Law Daily newsletter ( http://www.ilw.com/articles/2009,1102-Albrecht.shtm ). Jan can be reached at 339.221.1077 or via email albrecht.jan@gmail.com

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