A Unique Path for Immigration Lawyers

By Chris Collins, J.D. Class of 2022

Two things brought me to the Immigration Clinic here at William & Mary Law School: my upbringing around immigrant families, both with status and without, and my love for international travel and exchange. I grew up in Southern California where many of my classmates and friends had various statuses, both individually and within their families. While our immediate community was not always the most welcoming, it was always apparent to me that each of our families’ unique paths to Southern California was an asset for us all. But it was during college where I was able to study for a year in Austria that I truly understood the beauty of international exchange. In just one year my worldview was expanded in ways that I could not even comprehend and that fundamentally changed me in ways that are still ever present today, twelve years later.

Professor Kern-Scheerer and Nicole brought Mr. Peter Ganser, a retired Foreign Service Officer (“FSO”), to speak to our class and teach us about consular operations. Mr. Ganser is everything a law student could wish for: extremely experienced, generous with his time and knowledge, and willing and extremely happy to talk to students about a career path within the State Department. There are five career tracks for FSOs: Consular, Economic, Management, Political, and Public Diplomacy. Mr. Ganser worked in the Consular track where he processed visas for foreign nationals and assisted Americans abroad in need.

One of the most exciting aspects about the two class sessions with Mr. Ganser was learning how immigration law applies to consular activities, both for the individuals working within the consulate and the private attorneys who assist their clients throughout the visa process, all of which takes place abroad.

The thought of being a U.S. immigration lawyer, but not practicing in the United States, is, at first, a head scratcher. Though the more one thinks on it, it is a glaringly obvious concept. Most foreign nationals are required to obtain visas in order to visit the United States, even as a tourist, with the notable exceptions for foreign nationals from the forty countries who participate in the Visa Waiver Program. Therefore, the vast majority of people visiting the United States have to pass through the consular process, requiring not only a paper application but also an in-person interview with U.S. consular officers. Therefore, Foreign Service Officers based in the embassy process the application and interview every applicant before issuing a visa. Additionally, there is a subsequent market for private U.S. attorneys to assist foreign nationals through the application process and prepare them for the interview process.

The ability to practice immigration law abroad highlights the flexibility of immigration law for potential practitioners. It can become a practice area that emphasizes helping individuals to expand their worldview through access of tourist visas to the United States or to create better lives for themselves and their families through immigrant visas, all while still allowing the flexibility of a practitioner to live abroad and utilize their United States law degree and knowledge.