Eugene Chow is a "first-rate lawyer" with in-depth knowledge of US and Hong Kong immigration laws.
Eugene Chow has a diversified international immigration practice focused on the visa and residency needs of corporate clients, entrepreneurs and investors. A skilled immigration law specialist with more than four decades of practice experience, Eugene is well known for his effective advocacy and creative solutions. The firm also has a well-established niche practice in citizenship matters, representing individuals who wish to relinquish their US citizenship and multi-national families in acquiring an alternative citizenship or residence.
What inspired you to pursue a career in immigration law?
Immigration has always intrigued me and immigrating to the U.S. as a teenager was one of the most formative experiences in my life. From an early age, I knew I wanted to advocate for those in need. That desire drove me to start my legal career in the US in a grassroots community legal services office and then to a boutique law firm that specialised in diverse immigration cases including family reunion, political asylum, deportation, and business immigration. In 1987, I made a life-changing decision to relocate to Hong Kong to join a multinational full-service law firm to focus on corporate immigration law. Realising that the hierarchical structure of large firms hindered efficiency, I took up the courage to launch my own practice to provide more bespoke and personalised services.
What keeps you going after all these years in the industry?
After more than four decades in the industry, I still get excited waking up every morning to do what I do. I find it gratifying that the advice I give to my clients can be life-changing and make a considerable impact on their personal and professional lives. This is deeply rewarding and satisfying, and many of my clients become my friends for life. Through the various stages of my career, from non-profit legal services to now, my purpose has always been consistent- to help my clients with immigration decisions which fundamentally reshape their personal and professional lives.
How has the covid-19 outbreak impacted corporate immigration legal practice?
Covid-19 has been very disruptive. Countries are erecting barriers unilaterally for non-citizens and non-residents, implementing their own lockdowns, quarantine, travel restrictions and entry requirements, and this has made it very difficult for companies with an international workforce. Restrictions vary country by country. Some have barred all visa applicants, others have slowed or halted visa processing, and procedures and policy change by the day. This has created an extremely uncertain situation from a business continuity planning perspective. We as immigration lawyers have to somehow adapt to and deal with this unprecedented situation.
In what ways has the political situation in Hong Kong impacted the market and your practice?
Hong Kong has experienced surges in immigration throughout its history. Be it during the 1967 riots, the 1997 handover from the UK to China, the SARS crisis, the 2019 protests, and now the impact of covid and the National Security Law, Hong Kong has seen waves of emigration followed by counter-waves of “returnees” after crisis situations subside. In the past, I have advised corporations on how to tackle the brain drain issue and devised plans to ensure both orderly departure and return of key executive talent after helping them acquire permanent residence abroad through corporate sponsorship. At this juncture, there is great uncertainty and anxiety and many individuals are considering emigration and citizenship options while corporations are making decisions on their Asia headquarters and how to adjust their recruitment, retention and placement plans for key executives and their families.
What are future opportunities that you see in immigration law?
Corporate immigration lawyers are facing fierce competition from global mobility immigration consultancies, which tend to use a formulaic assembly-line business model for clients. My view is that future opportunities are actually in the individual case-by-case immigration needs of high-level executives and younger professionals who are balancing career mobility, family priorities and tax considerations. There are three key opportunities which reflect the different life stages of clients. The first are corporate executives at the height of their careers who are also balancing how to best provide a better quality of life for their children- they want optionality. Then there are start-up entrepreneurs who want to have a more jet-set life of living and working in high-growth cities and tech hubs – they want maximum flexibility. Finally, there are the well-established businessmen who want to hedge against political uncertainty while finding a more tax-efficient location to retire in- they want stability. In advising these clients, it is essential to work with lawyers from other jurisdictions. Inter-firm, cross-border and partnership with other law firms have become more important, as our clients require more global and around-the-clock services across jurisdictions.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in corporate immigration?
My advice is to speak to as many immigration lawyers as possible to get different perspectives and experiences. There is no “one size fits all” career or solution, and we need to not only know the law but also be entrepreneurial and creative in solving client issues. I would also suggest really listening to your clients’ needs, and thinking outside the box, to understand the real drivers of their immigration needs. This level of empathy helps us to provide the best counsel to clients responsive to their situation.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Probably from my father, who always encouraged me to forge my own path and wrote me a Chinese poem when I began my legal career which in part said, “Blessings do not come from success, fame, and material gain, but from toiling to right injustices.”
Eugene Chow has a diverse international immigration practice focused on the visa and residency needs of corporate clients, entrepreneurs and investors. A skilled immigration law specialist with more than 40 years of practice experience, Eugene is well known for his effective advocacy and creative solutions. The firm also has a well-established niche practice in citizenship matters, representing individuals who wish to relinquish their US citizenship and multi-national families in acquiring an alternative citizenship or residence.
What are the greatest challenges corporate immigration lawyers are currently facing in Hong Kong given the increasing pressures for political and legal alignment with China?
Hong Kong has been in the global spotlight given the social unrest last year and this year’s passage of the National Security Law (NSL). The NSL has ushered in a degree of tightening and uncertainty but has to an extent also restored stability for the time being. Hong Kong’s legal system along with the city’s geographic proximity to China will continue to make the city an attractive global financial centre. Historically, waves of emigration in Hong Kong have always been followed by counter-waves of “returnees” after crisis situations subside. From a corporate immigration lawyer standpoint, there will always be demand for orderly departure and return of key executive talent through immigration.
How does Chow King & Associates distinguish from competition in the market?
Immigration is a people-centric business. The cases we deal with deeply impact our clients’ careers as well as their personal lives, and often their families as well. Having a small boutique firm allows me to provide a more tailored approach that caters both to corporate clients, and the individuals and their families’ specific immigration needs. Through working along with a network of law firms around the world, I am able to provide personalised, customised, and individualised counsel to serve clients who require global solutions to their immigration needs.
What do you enjoy most about practising corporate immigration law?
I walk into my office every morning knowing that my “to-do list” will involve solving concrete, life-changing problems for my clients. My clients typically seek counsel when they are at a crossroads – whether it’s to contemplate a move to a country for education or better job opportunities, or for tax efficiency planning, or to acquire an alternative passport for visa-free travel privileges, or as a hedge against political uncertainty in their country of origin. The most fascinating part of my practice is that I’m serving clients across different life stages - from birth to 100 years old - and sometimes even across several generations. Every client who walks into my office comes with very distinct challenges and concerns that require personalised counsel to help them and their families solve some of their most fundamental immigration issues. It is rewarding to counsel them through their own decision-making process and advise on the legal solutions to their problems. In fact, many of my clients become my friends for life, and it is fulfilling to know that I’ve played a part in helping them solve their life’s challenges.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
After more than four decades of practice, I’ve had my moment doing some big immigration cases, representing high-profile clients on the front pages of newspapers and working with mentors, lawyers and legal scholars who are truly inspirational. At this stage in my career, what I find more gratifying is just making an impact in the personal lives of my clients. I’m still as solutions-oriented as ever before, but I’m also enjoying and savouring the journey more now than earlier in my career. I enjoy the conversations I have with my clients, learning about their situations and their lives, hearing about their concerns, challenging them in their decisions, and ultimately finding solutions that work for their immigration needs. I find just making a small difference in my clients’ lives to be just as gratifying, if not more, than winning high-profile court cases.
As principal of the firm, what are the main growth areas you see for corporate immigration law?
There is tremendous growth in cross-border collaboration between firms, with greater opportunities for partnerships between law firms and legal counsel. Clients today require more global and around-the-clock services across different jurisdictions. The multi-jurisdictional cases we have to deal with today means that there is a need to collaborate and refer out work to other law firms in different jurisdictions or with different expertise, so that clients can get more localised expertise in specific jurisdictions. What’s interesting is that the field of immigration law will continue to evolve, with more points of intersection with other types of advisory professionals as well, including bankers, tax advisers and relocation specialists.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in corporate immigration?
For those starting out in corporate immigration, I highly recommend that they speak to as many people in this practice area as possible to get different perspectives and experiences. There is no “one size fits all” career or solution, and immigration lawyers need to not only know the law but also be entrepreneurial and creative in solving client issues. I would also suggest really listening to their clients, and thinking outside the box, to understand the real drivers of their immigration needs. This level of empathy helps us as lawyers to provide the best counsel to clients in response to their situation.
“Eugene is a phenomenally well-versed lawyer”
“He is terrific across all immigration issues”
Eugene Chow is the principal of Chow King & Associates, a Hong Kong-based firm specialising in US, Hong Kong and international immigration and citizenship matters. Mr Chow’s boutique firm represents business investors and corporate multinational clients with employment visas and permanent residence and also has a niche practice representing American citizens who wish to relinquish their US citizenship, as well as individuals in the acquisition of a second citizenship in various jurisdictions to facilitate visa-free travel, for tax-planning purposes or as a hedge against negative economic or political developments in their countries of origin.
Mr Chow obtained his JD from Boston College Law School. A member of the Pennsylvania and California Bars, he has been a California Board-certified specialist in immigration and nationality law since 1989. "Certified specialist" is a designation conferred on lawyers with substantial experience in a specialty field, whose ability and experience in that field have been favourably evaluated by judges and other attorneys, and who have completed approved legal education programmes and passed a legal specialty examination.
Formerly on the board of two non-profit organisations which assist immigrants and refugees, Mr Chow is a frequent speaker at immigration conferences internationally and a regular contributing author to many legal publications including the 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2019 editions of AILA’s Immigration Options for Investors and Entrepreneurs; the Global Business Immigration Practice Guide by the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (LexisNexis, 2012, 2014–2016 editions); Corporate Immigration Review (Law Business Research, 2012–2020 editions) and Immigration Law: Jurisdictional Comparisons (European Lawyer Reference series, Thomson Reuters) (first edition, 2013), now Business Immigration: A Global Guide from Practical Law, second edition, 2017).