Immigration and Beignets: Highlights of the AILA Annual Conference June 2017

by Carolyn Szaiff Alvarez


Last week, I attended my very first American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) annual conference. Lucky for me, it was in New Orleans, a city I have long wanted to visit. Protima and I had a great time touring the city, eating delicious food, and, oh yes, learning about immigration law! Being an AILA conference beginner, there was a lot to take in—four full days of panels was both exciting and exhausting. Here are some highlights of the experience.

Immigration Law

During the first day of the conference, I attended several “101” sessions which helped me settle in and solidify my knowledge of broader subjects within immigration law, including family immigration and removal. Over the next few days, I attended sessions aimed more specifically at particular subtopics such as PERM, F-1 visas, RFEs, TNs, and E-2s, among others. I definitely learned a lot during these sessions (and found some great blog post ideas), but I also discovered that I knew more than I thought!

In the panels and sessions, I learned many helpful tips with regards to specific visas and issues in immigration law. For example:

 Studying hard!

Studying hard!

TN: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created special economic and trade relationships for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. One of these benefits include the nonimmigrant NAFTA Professional (TN) visa, which allows citizens of Canada and Mexico to work in the United States in prearranged business activities for US or foreign employers. Canadians apply for the TN at a US port of entry. A great tip I learned at the conference was to encourage our Canadian clients to apply for the TN on a weekday, to avoid the weekend rush of tourists coming over the border.

E-2: The E-2 visa is available to certain nationals of foreign countries with which the United States has a treaty of commerce and navigation. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires that these nationals must be traveling to the US “solely to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which he has invested, or of an enterprise in which he is actively in the process of investing, a substantial amount of capital.” During the conference, I learned that there is no “magic number” for these investments. For example, a $100,000 investment may be plenty for one type of business, but not enough for another; it is important to look at what the money is spent on and how it is being utilized. This makes complete sense, but it was good to be reminded!

B-1: The B-1 visa is for temporary business visitors. The visa is commonly used for foreign nationals that come to the US to attend conferences, participate in business meetings, negotiate contracts, and more.  At the conference, I learned that there are several unusual uses for the B-1 that are less commonly seen. For example, in certain situations, the B-1 visa can be used in lieu of the H-1B "specialty occupation" visa. In this case, the foreign national must be an employee of a foreign entity and paid by that foreign entity, coming to the US for a short term stay and with nonimmigrant intent.  They must also meet all other H-1B requirements. I had no idea that this was an option, and I am so glad I attended this session. Of course, the panel had a great name—“To B-1 or not to B-1”—you know we love puns at DLG (especially Liz).

 The official AILA selfie. This is how you look after four days of panels!

The official AILA selfie. This is how you look after four days of panels!

Displays of Evidence for O-1 & Green Cards: Since many O-1s and EB-1-1 Green Card cases, for example, are for individuals of extraordinary ability—including directors, actors, models, producers, musicians—it can be tempting to submit a DVD, CD, or hard drive that includes videos, photos, or clips of the O-1 applicant’s work. Many think, Oh, this will be an easy way for US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) to view the O-1 applicant’s work. Immigration lawyers reported, however, that USCIS will only accept materials provided on paper. They will not review DVDs, hard drives, CDs, or any other information provided in electronic formats. Immigration practitioners and applicants should thus be sure to only include evidence and displays of work on paper.

Lawful Permanent Residence: Matt recently wrote a post about lesser-known paths to permanent residency. I found these options fascinating, so I attended a session about this very subject to see if there were any other obscure options for foreign nationals. The panel delivered! I learned about “Registry,” which allows a foreign national to obtain a Green Card if they entered the US before January 1, 1972 and have continuously resided in the US since that time. They must also be a person of good moral character, not ineligible for naturalization, and not removable.

The conference also had several “Hot Topics” sessions, during which panel members discussed current events and developments in immigration law.  While these topics were issues I had some knowledge of prior to the conference, it was great to hear directly from the experts. Our blog has covered many of the issues discussed, including the Morales-Santana and Maslenjak cases, the “travel ban," and President Trump’s so-called “extreme vetting.”

New Orleans

Following each day’s sessions, Protima and I took some time to discover New Orleans. We made friends with our driver, who happily turned up the tunes in our car and drove us to all of the places on our list of things to see.  Highlights included the magnificent houses in the Garden District, the Audubon Park oak trees (although we did not see any giraffes), and lovely yet slippery Jackson Square. We also visited the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, which was moving and beautifully designed.

Soufflés and Redfish (Not Together)!  

 At Commander's Palace. So good!

At Commander's Palace. So good!

It’s no secret that we love food. And of course, New Orleans has some great options!  While it would have been easy to stay inside our hotel snacking after long immigration sessions, Protima and I ventured out a few times to check out the local cuisine. My favorites included the amazing bread pudding soufflé from Commander’s Palace (which I plan to recreate very soon) and the blackened redfish from Galatoire’s. On our last day, we even battled some flash flooding to enjoy a New Orleans classic: beignets and café au lait from Café du Monde.

I am looking forward to my next AILA annual conference (wherever that may be) as well as another visit to New Orleans. There’s plenty yet for me to discover about each!