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Highlights From AILA's Second Annual Global Summit 2004 - Thinking Beyond Borders

by Ann L. Lipson, Esq.

Earlier this month, in the heart of Times Square, New York, over 200 immigration lawyers from eighteen countries gathered to attend the two-day Second Annual Global Immigration Summit Thinking Beyond Borders, an event sponsored by AILA, in cooperation with ILPA (The Immigration Law Practitioners' Association the U.K. counterpart to AILA) and the International Bar Association. The stated aims of the conference were to increase understanding of comparative immigration procedures and facilitate the establishment of relationships with counterparts worldwide. The conference was accompanied by a handsome Summit Handbook written by invited practitioners from many of the represented countries. Except for the article by Lincoln Stone of Los Angeles, Comparative Investment Immigration Lessons to Learn from the United Kingdom for which Mr. Stone thanked Graeme D. Kirk of the U.K., only two others out of the 30+ articles addressed issues from a global perspective. While the articles did a very good job of laying out each individual country's respective immigration programs for different categories, they didn't venture too far across borders or regions.

So, did the presentations live up to the promised objectives? Reflecting on the sessions through a global lens, what did we learn?

The opening plenary session set the U.S. tone from the start and the tone of the entire conference in a post 9/11 world, how is the U.S. government balancing legitimate security concerns with the need to facilitate the entry of foreign nationals deemed desirable? The result, according to a New York Times article is hardly a balance it is a "visa quagmire." Steve Fischel of the State Department attributed the quagmire to both the VISA CONDOR and MANTIS programs. Doris Meissner, the former INS Commissioner, attributed much of the quagmire to the fact that good immigration enforcement has become conflated with anti-terrorism enforcement. The government doesn't yet know how to make its watch lists a living tool (i.e. why was Senator Edward Kennedy on the no-fly lists?). In discussing the 9/11 Commission Report, and the Terrorist Travel Staff Report published 2-3 weeks later, she explained that the travel systems, documents, and mobility patterns of terrorists are going to be every bit as important in countering terrorism as actually intercepting explosives. Bob Juceum came down very hard on the government's wide-open definition of terrorism in the Patriot Act resulting in the elimination of the pre-determination of probable cause and judicial review. According to Tamar Jacoby, policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, public opinion is being shaped by a perceived automatic link between fear of terrorism and immigration law.

It might come as a surprise to those of us in the U.S. coping with the brave new world of post- 9/11 immigration, that panelists from other countries including the U.K., Brazil, Australia, and even Canada, are not reporting major changes to their countries' immigration programs since 9/11. In fact, in a later panel the next day our Canadian colleagues indicated that there was no sense that Canada was in the same boat as the U.S., although government agencies, we were told, are grabbing all the power they can get without a lot of transparency.

The subsequent panel on foreign students compared immigration procedures for students in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. through the conceptual lenses of economics, politics, and racism. The big surprise was to find out that the U.K. with 60 million citizens is now home to 270,000 foreign students and that foreign students are a multi-billion dollar industry. Perhaps one of the big draws to the U.K. is the fact that students can work part-time in the U.K. and during vacations. In Canada, spouses of students can work as a matter of course, in contradistinction to our F-2 spouses. In another panel, Nigel Dobbie of Australia pointed out that Australia's foreign student industry is also a multi-billion dollar industry and that Australia is quite happy to accommodate the foreign students who would otherwise be attending U.S. universities.

It was a disappointment to have to choose between two excellent tracks on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, either the business immigration option or the family/citizenship/refugee/asylum track. Since my practice is pretty evenly divided, I opted for the business track. The following summarizes some of the key points from the business track:

With respect to managers/executives and highly skilled workers, the question posed to the panelists was whether the immigration programs in place in the U.S., U.K., Mexico, South Africa, and Belgium represented each country's "best practices". The answer was "yes" for the U.S., U.K, Mexico, and Belgium and "no" for South Africa with Gary Eisenberg reporting problems in what he termed delivery or implementation. Our Belgian colleague, Bernard Caris, reported that for managers and highly skilled workers, the U.K. was ranked highest in a study, with Belgium coming in second. Several of the U.K. panelists throughout the conference referred to the U.K.'s successful Highly Skilled Migrant Program that has been attracting talent in the U.K. for the last two years, based upon a point system. Overall, the various schemes seem to differ primarily in the degree of flexibility and porosity of the respective programs. Of note is the fact that Belgium appears to allow citizenship after a temporary stay without first requiring permanent residence.

As for the session on lesser skilled and essential workers, after listening to panelists from the U.K., Canada, and Argentina, Debra Notkin couldn't help blurting out that she was "drooling" over other countries' schemes, and lamenting the U.S. restrictionist policies as implemented in the H-2B and H-1B caps.

At the policy roundtable that started off Saturday's program U.S. practitioners were shocked to learn that Canada is aiming at increasing its immigration over the next few years. It is sometimes difficult to keep in mind that Canada only has a population of 30 million, which is half the population of the U.K., and less than the entire population of California.

The panel on doctors and nurses addressed similarities and differences between programs in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia vis a vis attracting foreign doctors and nurses. Although all countries appear to recognize shortages in regional and rural areas, the U.S. overall seems to have the most restrictive policies. Australia's policies seem geared to attract health care workers to its rural regions, while, the U.K., as Karen Sturtevant explained, has immigration procedures that follow professional credentialing.

The investor panel revealed how the U.S.'s investor program is failing to attract some of the entrepreneurial talent in the world because the E-B(5) requirements are more difficult to meet than any of the schemes of the U.K., Canada or Hong Kong. Although, as Graeme Kirk explained, the U.K. has two passive investment options and a business or self-employed option, it also has an "Innovator category" as well as the Highly Skilled Migrant Program, which allows individuals with enough points to enter the U.K. even without a job offer. Similarly, Canada also has an "Entrepreneur" category, which doesn't carry the enormous dollar and job creation requirement of the U.S. investor scheme.

Saturday's lunch brought everyone together for a special briefing on assessing the U.S. refugee program, which featured a lengthy presentation by David Martin, Professor of International Law at the University of Virginia, who had recently completed a report on reforms for the U.S. refugee resettlement program for the Department of State.

The Saturday afternoon schedule was divided into three plenary sessions addressing trends in Europe, the Asia Pacific/Africa and the Americas. In the panel on Europe, panelists from the U.K., Holland, and Spain, indicated that their respective immigration laws were driven by politics, while the German speaker, Neil McHardy, referenced the economic debate in Germany, and Stephan Coulaux of France indicated that besides it's so called "black list", France's immigration scheme was not motivated by politics. Georgina Scornik Centurion of Spain reminded us of the Madrid bombings of March 11 of this year, which have the same emotional resonance in Spain as our 9/11, and how Spain has had to rethink its immigration policies in light of its proximity to suspected terrorist cells in Morocco. The U.K. and Dutch panelists, Julia Onslow-Cole and Ted Badoux, indicated that both of their countries were influenced by Canadian immigration in particular. With respect to the Asia Pacific/Africa region, we learned that the new South African government's immigration scheme was an ambiguous mess; that Australia was open for those wishing to "rusticate" in that country or study there; and that Hong Kong, according to Eugene Chow, was also wide open. In the Americas panel, it was interesting to learn from Norbeto Terrazas Arreola, how Mexico is coping with its proximity to Belize and Guatemala, and its status as a cross-through country for those trying to reach "El Norte."

Did the conference facilitate the establishment of relationships with colleagues worldwide?

Most definitely, yes. The conference was extremely well organized to allow plenty of time to mingle during the various breaks and over continental breakfast and the gourmet lunches, for which the Westin Hotel and conference organizers should be given all the credit. In addition to the informal chatting opportunities, there was a separately ticketed Conference Dinner on Friday evening held at "The Tavern on the Green in Central Park."

The venue and the autumn time of year couldn't have been better. New York was at its splendid best. New York was also the half-way point for me on my way home to California after attending an excellent immigration law conference put on by ILPA in London.

About The Author

Ann L. Lipson, Esq. nowadays practices U.S. immigration and nationality law in the San Francisco Bay Area, after practicing in England, France, Berkeley, and Phoenix for over twenty years. She can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.