A 16-person team of immigration lawyers and staff have left Littler Mendelson for Greenberg Traurig, giving Greenberg an Atlanta immigration practice while stripping Littler of its local group.
Ian Macdonald, who was the co-chair of Littler’s global mobility and immigration practice, has joined Greenberg Traurig as a shareholder. Scott Decker, Emily Liss and Avani Patel have joined as associates. Twelve paralegals and other professionals also made the move.
Littler will refocus its immigration practice on Miami, where the leader of the group, Jorge Lopez, practices, said L. Traywick Duffie, Littler’s Atlanta managing shareholder. “We’re going to perform the same services as we always have for our clients, just out of Miami.”
Macdonald, who spent five years at Littler, said Greenberg’s more extensive international coverage and Washington lobbying practice were draws because his client base is multinational, including several Fortune 500 companies.
Greenberg, a 1,750-lawyer general practice firm, has five offices or alliances with other firms in Europe plus offices in Shanghai, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Mexico City. Littler, the country’s largest labor and employment firm, has nine locations in Latin America, but none in Europe or Asia (although it has an alliance with a Chinese firm).
“Immigration is at the crossroads of politics and foreign affairs, so the ability to offer clients industry coalitions and engage in meaningful political lobbying is an important area that I needed and didn’t have,” Macdonald said.
“The ability to exert lobbying pressure in the immigration area through the Washington office gives our client base a distinct advantage. We can put them in front of issues instead of retroactively responding to situations,” he explained.
Multinational companies have pressed for the United States to increase the number of worker visas for years, but Congress has not acted.
Greenberg supports changes to the nation’s immigration law, Macdonald said. “We do not have a political agenda but a pragmatic agenda. Everybody, regardless of political background, agrees the current immigration policy needs to be revised.”
In June the Senate passed a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration bill that would more than double the number of H1-B visas available annually for high-skilled workers, currently capped at 65,000 per year and create up to 200,000 new W visas for low-skilled workers. But negotiations have fizzled in the House.
Macdonald added that the government shutdown has affected clients’ foreignemployees in unexpected ways. In addition to being unable to hire foreign workers or sponsor permanent residents, companies cannot procure Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses for people coming into the United States.
“We’ve got client employees who right now cannot start work and cannot drive cars here in the USA,” he said.
To renew a driver’s license, foreign nationals must show that their immigration status is being renewed, Macdonald said, but they can’t file for extensions on an H1-B visa because the Department of Labor is closed. The Social Security Administration also is closed.
“Companies are being affected. Individuals cannot receive a paycheck,” he said.
In Georgia, new hires must be run through the federal eVerify background check, but the eVerify system is shut down. Employers not in compliance with eVerify are technically in violation of state law, Macdonald said.
“So as all these agencies shut down, all of these unintended consequences are coming out of the woodwork that affect the ability of companies to hire and maintain professional workers—and for those workers to conduct day-to-day living,” he said.
Immigration law has expanded beyond procuring visas and compliance counseling, Macdonald said. “When a group is sent abroad to do a project or build an infrastructure, it’s no longer that we just get you a visa and you’re done.”
“As the economy becomes internationalized, so does the range of people services,” he said. He has experienced the system himself as a dual citizen of Great Britain and the United States.
That includes international employment and noncompete agreements, plus the transfer of employee benefits.
Global migration services are a growth area for international law and accounting firms, Macdonald said.
A statement from Greenberg’s co-chair, Matthew Gorson, about the new hires reflects that. “The breadth of experience, skills and diversity they offer allow Greenberg Traurig to continue to offer our clients global solutions in an ever-changing marketplace,” Gorson said.
“Multinationals want a group like mine to come in and give the top-down review so human resources, tax, and finance—all these interrelated business units—can assess the movement of people from one country to another at the macro level. Labor and employment firms don’t have the footprint to do that,” Macdonald said.
While large U.S. labor and employment firms have aggressively expanded their U.S. footprints over the last decade, they have lagged behind general practice firms in expanding abroad.