Nita Nicole Upadhye is a London-based, US immigration specialist with over 15 years of experience in US immigration law. She is the author and co-author of numerous law articles in prestigious industry journals and has been quoted by globally recognised news outlets, including the Financial Times and the BBC. She has held executive board positions with international bar associations and has been invited to speak on conference panels throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Ms Upadhye was born in Canada, raised in the United States and now bases her practice in the United Kingdom.
What do you enjoy most about practising corporate immigration law?
My parents moved to North America as immigrants from India, my father with an engineering degree and my mother a mathematics degree. They developed rewarding careers, raised a family and realised their American Dream. I find it deeply gratifying to play a part in helping the world’s top talent pursue their dreams. As a corporate immigration lawyer, I am able to apply my background in economics and law to unite the world’s most renowned investors, entrepreneurs, managers and specialists with America’s best companies. Corporate immigration fuels the US economy and it is rewarding to be a part of this.
What do clients look for when selecting a corporate immigration lawyer?
Competence and connection. When I speak with potential clients, they want to know that their immigration lawyer has the experience and knowledge necessary to reach a successful outcome. They want to hear about potential challenges they will face in achieving their goals and strategies for overcoming those challenges. They want to know that their lawyer will inform them of any changes in law and policy that might impact their global mobility programme. Equally, they want to feel that they are being listened to and that they will receive excellent client care.
What advice would you give to individuals navigating the US immigration system in the current political climate?
Be tenacious but be practical. The Trump Administration has imposed travel bans and extreme vetting directives that are delaying immigration. These policies combined with processing backlogs and increasing government fees has created an ‘invisible wall’ that has been extremely difficult to penetrate. The strategies that worked before may no longer be effective, so you have to be realistic about your chances of success. In this climate you must work closely with a lawyer to demonstrate that your work is essential to the economic recovery of the United States, and discuss all possible angles for entry into the United States in light of rapidly changing policies and procedures.
To what degree has the process of granting routine extensions of H-1B and L1 visas changed over the course of your career?
There is no such thing as a ‘routine’ extension any longer. When I first started working in the field of immigration law, USCIS caseworkers would issue the occasional Requests for Further Evidence but it is now an expectation that every submission will be challenged. It is deflating when a caseworker calls into question the seniority of a CEO, for example, or doubts the viability of a thriving corporate enterprise at the extension stage. We can never take for granted that an H-1B or L-1 extension will be approved, and we have to do everything possible to submit a strong, well-documented case while minimising business disruption for our clients.
How has the corporate immigration market been affected by the coronavirus outbreak?
The market came to a grinding halt in spring 2020, with embassy closures and the signing of Presidential Proclamations 9993, 9996, 10014 and 10052. It continues to be a challenging time for the market. Initially, the bans restricting immigration were designed to preserve jobs in the wake of a ravaged economy, but it is clear that the administration is using it as an opportunity to push a hard-line immigration agenda. If the US economy is to recover, it is more important than ever to let entrepreneurs, global managers and specialist workers into the United States to shore up a failing economy.
Why did you decide to set up your own firm?
I am passionate about helping talented, ambitious people realise their potential and pursue opportunities in the United States. I started my firm with the purpose of cultivating a closer connection to the clients I work with, and as a result of these strong relationships I feel more vested in the outcome of every single case. From a business perspective, the challenges I face every day in my firm are an opportunity to grow as a businesswoman, a lawyer and as a person. It has given me a great deal of pride and fulfilment to build a team and a ‘brand’ and I look forward to the future.
How would you like to develop your practice in the next five years?
I have every intention to grow by bringing more senior talent to the team so that I can do what I love most – building relationships with clients and colleagues. There is nothing more beneficial to a law firm than going out and learning from others in the field. I want to position the firm as a dynamic, world-class US immigration practice that attracts clients throughout Europe, and serves as the go-to firm for consular practice in London and Europe.
What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
My late boss Mr Edward Gudeon told me that if he could offer any advice to a new lawyer it would be to put your head down and do great work, and you will be a success. I think that is excellent advice, but I would add that you must develop relationships with colleagues and peers in your profession. If you see everyone as a competitor, you will live a lonely life, but if you recognise that you are all on the same “team” going through all of the same career highs and lows together, your life as a lawyer will have a richness that extends far beyond winning the next case.