Henry J Chang obtained his JD from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1990. He was admitted to the practice of law in the state of California and the province of Ontario in 1992. A recognised authority in the field of US and Canadian business immigration law, Henry writes and speaks extensively on the subject of cross-border legal matters. He is also certified as a specialist in immigration law by the Law Society of Ontario.
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
My parents both worked in professional occupations so I always expected to have a career in either law or medicine. I ultimately decided to pursue a career in law instead of medicine about 32 years ago and still believe that I made the correct choice. I have now been practising for more than 27 years.
What do you enjoy most about working in immigration law?
When I was in law school, I originally planned on practising corporate law. However, by the time I became a lawyer, the 1990-1991 recession had eliminated many of these jobs. Because of this, I decided to open my own firm.
Of course, trying to practice corporate law as a sole practitioner during a recession was a challenge. So when clients began asking me to help with them their business immigration cases, I decided to focus on that area of practice instead.
I now realise that business immigration law is a more fulfilling practice area for me than corporate law could have ever been. Every time I successfully represent a client in an immigration matter, it directly effects that individual client’s life in a positive way. Even in cases where I act for a corporate client, the individual employee who I represent directly benefits from a positive adjudication.
What qualities make for an effective corporate immigration lawyer?
I think the most important skill that a corporate immigration lawyer can have is legal ability. Clients ultimately hire lawyers because they have a problem that needs solving. However, legal ability alone is not enough to make someone a top practitioner.
Business development skills are also critical to a successful legal career in any practice area, including corporate immigration law. Many young lawyers never develop these skills because they are told to focus only on technical skills and billable hours. However, a successful career in law requires both legal ability and business development skills.
Your practice spans both US and Canadian immigration law – what are the most challenging aspects of such a cross-border practice?
One of the most challenging aspects of practising both US and Canadian immigration law is keeping current on the laws of two countries. Immigration laws change much more frequently than other areas of law, so keeping current can sometimes be a challenge.
Another challenging aspect of practising US and Canadian immigration law is that the laws of these two countries are similar in some respects, but completely different in others. It is important to remind yourself that what works in one country will not necessarily work in the other.
What advice would you give to individuals navigating the US immigration system in the current political climate?
I think in the current environment, navigating the US immigration system can be challenging. An individual who is seeking any immigration benefit (eg, a work permit, permanent residence, etc) in the US right now needs to be aware of this fact. Once they are aware, they can either proceed with the knowledge that they will need to fight a little harder in the current environment, or they can consider another country, such as Canada.
What impact has the growth of employment in the Canadian cannabis industry had on the nature of US and Canadian immigration practice?
The legalisation of cannabis in Canada and the employment of Canadians in this growing industry has created challenges in terms of US border crossings. Although most Canadians are now aware that mere employment in the Canadian cannabis industry will not bar them, they could still be banned from the US if they attempt to enter the country in “matters related to the marijuana industry”. The problem is that no guidelines have been issued regarding what constitutes a matter “related to the marijuana industry”.
The uncertainty is even more significant now that Canadian cannabis companies are starting to acquire US cannabis businesses, which are legal at the state level but are still considered criminal activities at the federal level. This significantly increases the probability that a Canadian cannabis employee will be banned from the US as a controlled substance trafficker.
Where, in your opinion, does the future of the practice area lie?
For many years now, the big four accounting firms (and a few other global immigration law firms) have been offering large-volume corporate immigration services at a low price. Many global clients now use these firms for their corporate immigration services. However, not all corporate immigration law firms have been adversely affected by this trend. Law firms that have brand recognition and a reputation for providing the highest-quality legal services continue to thrive in this environment.
To some extent, the corporate immigration law market mirrors other mature markets such as the automobile industry. Some auto manufacturers have become quite successful selling large volumes of low-cost automobiles while others have also thrived by selling luxury or high-performance vehicles under a recognised brand name, albeit at a higher cost.
The development of artificial intelligence (AI) will also affect corporate immigration law practices in the future. As the technology becomes more advanced, many jobs traditionally performed by junior lawyers will be performed by AI in the future. Unfortunately, this means fewer jobs for junior lawyers. Of course, the eventual implementation of AI is not unique to the field of corporate immigration law; it will affect all areas of legal practice.
What advice would you give to younger lawyers looking to establish a career in corporate immigration?
I think that the market for corporate immigration law will eventually consist of firms offering high-volume, low-cost legal services, and firms with a recognised brand that provide bespoke legal services at a higher cost. A young lawyer who wants to establish a career in corporate immigration law will eventually need to decide which business model is more closely aligned with their personal beliefs, and then choose their future employer accordingly.