Michael Wooley has over 22 years of experience in employment-based immigration issues. He specializes in working with C-level corporate officers and general counsels to formulate long-term immigration strategies and short-term solutions for U.S. and international companies. He also assists clients’ employees with family-based immigration matters and naturalization. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador, Mike is fluent in oral and written Spanish.
What motivated you to become an attorney?
It may sound cliché, but I’ve always wanted to help people. In college, I was a psychology major and did very well, but decided not to enter that field. Instead, I decided to pursue a lifelong dream and volunteered for the Peace Corps after graduation. I oversaw the construction of water systems across 25 towns near the western rain forests of Ecuador. During that time, someone mentioned to me that I would make a good lawyer based on my persuasive writing skills and problem-solving abilities. I researched what it would take to become an attorney and decided to pursue it. In Ecuador, I lived in a small town with very sporadic electricity, so I often studied for the LSAT by candlelight – an experience I’ll never forget. Soon after, I attended University of Michigan Law School.
How did you get your start as an immigration attorney?
I began my legal career as a litigator. I enjoyed being in court and was successful. The fluid environment was a good fit for me. I enjoyed thinking on my feet and adapting to the unpredictable nature of the courtroom. Early in my career at another firm, a senior partner identified a missing component in his health care law practice – immigration counseling and representation. The partner offered me the opportunity to create and grow the immigration practice. I accepted and founded the immigration practice at that firm with a focus on health care and higher education and expanded it to helping families. I have worked with many of my institutional clients for over a decade now and I really enjoy understanding their needs.
How have the recent U.S. immigration developments affected employers and employees?
The laws haven’t changed drastically, but now they are being enforced very rigidly. Technically, the evidentiary standards applied to cases have not changed, but the threshold amount of proof the government requires to satisfy those standards has increased dramatically. This makes immigration more restrictive and cumbersome for employers and individuals coming into the U.S. The threshold of standards is much higher and the level of scrutiny at the consulate agencies and adjudication centers is unprecedented. Also, some individuals are being affected by travel bans, but there are also increased evidence requirements for employers and employees. In addition, employers and individuals should expect substantial delays in processing. What used to take two months now can take eight months or longer.
What are best practices that employers are using to help attract talent from outside of the United States and what advice can you provide?
Employers can save resources and avoid employment disruptions by identifying hiring needs, anticipated start dates and employee travel needs much earlier than they have been accustomed to. This may not be ideal from a business perspective, but planning a year in advance is helpful. Preparing and filing immigration paperwork at the earliest possible time is key. Some immigration forms may be filed up to six months in advance of a requested start date. Employers should identify early on whether a worker has the necessary credentials to enter and work in the U.S. Employers and employees should have documentary evidence on hand well in advance of filing. Employers now need a long-range strategy for hiring foreign employees.
What is the most rewarding part of your immigration law practice?
I am passionate about being an advocate and a voice for those who need the legal services I offer and I greatly enjoy helping organizations bring valuable talent to the U.S. Also, I occasionally accept unique cases in which we have interrupted and ultimately defeated the government’s attempts to deport foster children, adoptees and spouses on technicalities. We only do a few, often pro bono or for a greatly discounted fee, but those cases are a lot of fun. There is no gray area, you either win or you lose ... and we win.