Originally published in Law360 on 5/26/15.

Q&A With Phillips Lytle’s Rana Jazayerli

Rana Jazayerli is a partner at Phillips Lytle LLP in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. Jazayerli provides counsel on all areas of U.S. immigration law, with a focus on employment-based visas, counseling employers on a broad range of immigration matters, including the hiring of foreign nationals under temporary employment visa categories such as H-1Bs and L-1As. Rana also advises employers on proper I-9 form compliance and use of the federal E-Verify employment authorization program.

In addition, Jazayerli has extensive expertise in the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program, providing assistance to individuals seeking U.S. permanent residency through investment, and U.S. companies seeking EB-5 regional center designation to allow them to finance job creating projects.

A graduate of Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Columbia Law School, Rana is licensed to practice law in New York and Washington, D.C.

Q: What is the most challenging case you have worked on and what made it challenging?

A: I had a client who came to me after she had received a notice to appear in immigration court. When she came to my office the first time she was crying and desperate for help. The client was devastated because she had been led to believe by her then-immigration attorney (who turned out to be an unlicensed “notario”) that she not only had a valid U.S. visa, but that she would be receiving her permanent residency — her green card — any day. Instead, she learned that he had filed her immigration petition under the wrong category, and then failed to follow up with an appeal to correct. The end result was that she was out of status and subject to deportation. Her case was further complicated by the risk that if she remained in the U.S. just to try to fight the deportation she could end up subject to a 10-year bar on re-entry to the U.S. (which she would not be subject to if she left immediately).

The case was challenging not only legally but emotionally because the young woman was adamant that her “life would be over” if she had to return to her home country. So she chose to stay and fight deportation. I filed a motion to reopen her original immigration petition on the grounds of “ineffective Rana Jazayerli assistance of counsel” — an incredibly difficult argument to win in any case, but especially where the “counsel” is not even a licensed attorney. The case took more than a year to unravel, but in the end she was granted U.S. permanent residency, and this year she was able to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Q: What aspects of your practice area are in need of reform and why?

A: As the term “comprehensive immigration reform” implies, just about every area of immigration law needs to be reformed. Everyone is aware of the fact that there are millions of undocumented persons in the U.S. and that something must be done about this situation, but very few people are aware of how our limited nonimmigrant visas that allow foreign nationals to work in the U.S. effect American businesses every year.

One example is the H-1B visa lottery. An H-1B visa allows professional workers, including all information technology and engineering professionals — many of whom graduate from American colleges — to temporarily work in the U.S. The U.S. only issues 85,000 H-1B visas a year (20,000 of which are for U.S. master’s graduates only). And every year, far more petitions for the H-1B visa are filed by U.S. companies in the first week than there are visas available for the whole year.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that this year it received nearly 233,000 H-1B petitions in the first five business days of April 2015 for employment beginning in the 2016 fiscal year. The result is a computer-generated lottery of all petitions received that first week, with well over 100,000 petitions to be returned unopened. Then, for the remainder of the year, a critical visa category that would have allowed U.S. companies to hire foreign nationals, who have the skills that they need, is unavailable .

Bill Gates testified before Congress about this issue back in 2008, explaining that Microsoft Corp. could not find enough qualified U.S. workers to fill all the IT positions at the company and could not hire the qualified foreign nationals it needed because of a lack of visas. His request that Congress increase the number of H-1B visas available annually was — and continues to be — ignored.

As I understand, Microsoft ended up opening a branch in Vancouver, Canada, simply because there it could hire the qualified foreign nationals that it needed. So the U.S. lost an entire branch of a company to another country because of the failure to reform just a single category of visas.

Q: What is an important issue relevant to your practice area and why?

A: The misconception of what immigration means to our country. We say that the U.S. is a country of immigrants, but I think people forget, or do not understand, what this really means and how important this continues to be. It takes unbelievable courage to choose to leave your home, your family and everything you know to move to another country where you probably do not even speak the native language. The kind of person with the courage and ability to make this sacrifice possesses the kind of attributes of those that helped to build this country and make it so unique. Immigrants are some of the hardest working, most determined people in America because they are going to ensure their sacrifice pays off.

My favorite story involves a cab driver I met several years ago. This particular individual was an engineer in his native country, but had been driving a cab for 20-plus years since immigrating to the U.S. And, as we talked, he proudly told me about his children. The son had just completed medical school and his daughter was finishing her Ph.D.

This is the essence of an immigrant story: Individuals working hard to create a safe and stable life for their families so they can achieve their goals in the U.S. and ensure the sacrifice of leaving their country behind was worthwhile.

Q: Outside your firm, name an attorney in your field who has impressed you and explain why.

A: I am continually impressed by Sheela Murthy of the Murthy Law Firm in Maryland. Murthy is a fantastic immigration attorney who is an immigrant herself. Sheela started her own practice as a solo practitioner in 1994, and grew her firm to over 80 attorneys. She also established a foundation to support projects in the U.S. and abroad that offer opportunities and assistance to people in need. With all of her success, Sheela remains approachable and is very active in mentoring young immigration attorneys and is truly happy to see them succeed.

Q: What is a mistake you made early in your career and what did you learn from it?

A: An early mistake, and perhaps one of my biggest professional mistakes, was choosing the wrong practice area when I began my legal career. I began my career as a litigator because I enjoyed crafting legal arguments and was good at seeing both sides of a debate, which allowed me to anticipate what the attorney on the other side would say. And so, I assumed that litigation was where I would thrive. I focused on litigation while still in law school, clerked for a federal district court judge after graduating and then went to work as a litigation associate in a large and prestigious Washington, D.C., law firm.

But, once I was actually practicing, I found myself miserable and bored — not because litigation is miserable or boring — but because it was a terrible fit for me. I stuck to the practice area for many years because I felt that I had already invested so much time and effort to get there. In 2007, I finally made the change to focus my legal practice on immigration and I couldn’t be happier. What I learned is that if something is not working for you, then you need to make a change (or many changes) until you find what does work for you — the changes may not be easy, but they are totally worth it in the end.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.