Baum Stevens Bargman

The Non-Citizen Attorney in a United States Law Firm

David BargmanComment

By David Bargman, Esq.

President, Baum Stevens Bargman Legal Search

          In the Age of Globalization, and multi-jurisdictional law firms, I counsel non-citizen lawyers trained outside the United States or with Law Degrees from American law schools on finding employment in United States firms. There are a number of factors that affect the ability of a non-citizen lawyer to practice law successfully with a United States firm. Among them is the type of visa a lawyer or the hiring firm obtains. Three significant U.S. visa programs affect the ability to practice law in this country.

          The H-1B is a visa in the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows U.S. employers to employ temporarily foreign workers in specialty occupations such as law. A “specialty occupation” requires the application of specialized knowledge and a bachelor's degree or equivalent work experience, usually outside the United States. The duration of stay is three years, extendable to six years; after which the visa holder may need to reapply. (Many of the top law firms will sponsor and finance visas for lawyers with specialized international legal experience.) Laws limit the number of H-1B visas that are issued each year.  Employers must generally withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from the wages paid to employees in H-1B status.

          The exchange visitor (J1) non-immigrant visa is for individuals, such as attorneys, who have been approved to participate in, and are integral to, a work exchange visitor program.  The J1 visa can be a prelude to longer status with an H1-B visa and Permanent status through a Green Card.

          Finally, a TN visa is a special non-immigrant status in the United States, Canada, and Mexico that offers expedited work authorization to a citizen of these countries. It is similar to the U.S. H-1B visa, but applies only to citizens of those three countries as part of NAFTA. The North American Trade Agreement.

          Non-citizen attorneys seeking employment in the United States must familiarize themselves with applicable visa programs as part of the application process.  Other requirements include:

  • a J.D. or LL.M. from an accredited U.S. law school or a foreign equivalent;

  • a resume and a detailed description of any non-U.S. law practice; and

  • for foreign trained lawyers, a transcript with an explanation of the grading method for the purpose of comparison with a United States law school transcript.

It is an exciting and challenging time to be a lawyer.  For the non-citizen lawyer, practicing in the United States involves you in the global economy and enhances your career if and when you return to your home country.

Happy hunting.

Copyright David Bargman 2019







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