Welcome to our first episode of Season 2! Rachel and Jessica speak with Raymond Lahoud, a Member of Norris McLaughlin, P.A., focusing on immigration law. Immigration issues are complicated enough, but how does that factor into boosting the U.S. economy? Listen to our last episode to find out more.
Be sure to also check out the latest episode of Mr. Lahoud’s podcast, “Immigration Matters.”
We’ve included a transcript of our conversation below, transcribed by artificial intelligence. The transcript has been lightly edited for style, clarity, and readability.
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Today’s episode is the first of the second season, where we’re broadening our focus to trending topics in the legal industry. Today we’re speaking with Ray Lahoud, Member of North McLaughlin about the impact of COVID-19 on immigration and labor shortages. Ray, would you like to tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Raymond Lahoud 00:30
Well, thanks for having me, Rachel. It’s really awesome to be here on this podcast and to talk about such an interesting area of law right now, in the world, particularly immigration law. I’m a partner at Norris McLaughlin, where I serve as the Chair of the Immigration Law Group here. I handle employment-based immigration matters, removal defense, employment, verification, I noncompliance all types of immigration matters, a broad spectrum with my great team of attorneys, paralegals, and assistants here at North McLaughlin. So thank you again for having me. It’s great to be here.
One of the first topics we wanted to focus on here is immigration’s impact on labor shortages. You’ve written a lot about the impacts on the U.S. economy due to labor shortages. Can you explain how immigration can help remedy the situation?
Raymond Lahoud 01:18
I think we can all agree that without labor without employees, without people to go and work in whatever company, whatever organization, whatever place that exists out there that that needs to provide services or goods to the American public needs, needs employees. Without labor, there’s no economy, immigration right now is really a huge part of the employment demand, or the employment shortage share. There’s a lot of Americans who are able to legally work who just don’t want to work or have you know, taken different decisions or different approaches on life or what they want to do with their life. But we still need people to perform some of these essential functions from farming, to nursing care to handling, you know, mushroom picking to manufacturing, immigration is the way that has long proven to be a way to solve that through temporary visa programs through you know, green card programs that existed out there. And under the Trump administration. And when COVID hit, things really got hit pretty hard and really slowed down the ability for people to bring in international employees to the United States that fill that gap.
This has been an ongoing issue. So are there any policy changes on your radar that will help solve this issue, either through immigration or otherwise?
Raymond Lahoud 02:38
The only way to solve this issue is through comprehensive immigration reform. For over a decade now, we’ve been using the number of 11 million people that are in the country without documentation, I think we can all agree that that number is significantly higher, probably 20, or 30 million people, step one is going to be trying to figure out how we handle those 20 to 30 million people or even Federalists 11 million people that 11 to 20 million people that we have the United States without documentation. And that means that some people are going to have to be deported, who you know, may have certain crimes may have certain issues in terms of their background, but a significant number of these individuals have been in the country for a long time, working without authorization, pleading taxes. So there has to be a process of legalization for those individuals, which is the big issue. We don’t what is legalization for them. And then there also has to be a secure border where people can’t just cross the border without any documentation. I mean, every country has borders, borders are important. We can all see how important borders are right now with what’s happening in Ukraine. You know, comprehensive immigration reform includes having an ability for individuals to come into the United States to work to claim asylum if they have to, to help our employers here in the United States who need employees because people are just not taking part or not applying to Americans are just not applying to take on these jobs. The great resignation has, for some reason taken over the United States and it continues. So what do we need? We need comprehensive immigration reform? How do we get there? It’s getting members of Congress to agree daily, I’m talking to clients who will arrive in Pennsylvania and they’ll say how do I start working here I just crossed the border assuming that because they heard on Facebook before they came up here are on TikTok are though like that it would be very easy for them to claim asylum. So I’m dealing with a lot of clients and potentials and individuals who have just recently crossed the border now feel that they’re stuck in the United States because they can’t leave because they have to go through proceedings and they can’t work. I mean, there’s also in this representation, let’s say that we keep hearing the numbers, millions are coming to the United States. There are millions of encounters. So you may have one person try to come to the United States four or five times and each one is considered an encounter. And this is a problem that we see from President to President, by the way, and this is why I say we need comprehensive immigration reform. Because let’s go back to 1986. Ronald Reagan was going to deal with the immigration problem we had, you know, millions of people here in the United States back then. And he did put three amnesty 1213 14 million people were granted permanent resident status, they say that cost the turn of California to a blue state once they became citizens top political. In the end, they’re like going back to that every President has made immigration, much tougher, actually very tough. Actually, it was the administration that puts some of the toughest policies when it comes to what’s called the public charge rule. The way our system is written right now is that the executive branch just has so much ability and authority discretionary ability and authority over what to do or what not to do, what they can do what they can’t do in terms of immigration. And then every time a new president comes in, something changes drastically. So you had Obama come in, then he puts in place DACA, you know, gives eight 900,000 people, you know, a temporary quote-unquote, status, and you have President Trump come in, and he takes it away. And then you have President Biden come in. Again, it goes back to comprehensive immigration reform. It’s all just been patchwork since after ’86. Now we have 11, 12, 13, 14, 20 million people here. So it’s-I think the distaste is, is that we’re going to grant people status, and it’s just going to happen, again, has to be a two-fold fix as to be true, comprehensive immigration reform where we’re not, you know, 10 years down the road, we don’t have another 15 million people that don’t have documentation here.
What can companies do to help deal with this shortage of immigrant labor or just labor in general?
Raymond Lahoud 06:39
Every day, I probably field 20 to 30 calls from employers who cannot find employees. It’s the biggest problem. I think that’s facing our country right now. And I’m not sure where it comes from, I really don’t understand what this great resignation is, I don’t know how people can live. Right now, there are several legal immigration processes that are available. One is the H Tubi. system, which is a great way of bringing in seasonal employees for farms for landscaping, contractors, painters, manufacturing work, which we bring workers over here year after year. The H1-B lottery is another visa process. So there’s visa processes that are out there, it’s good to avail as an employer to not be afraid of these processes to you know, when you’re recruiting globally recruit, and when you find a candidate, seek out an immigration attorney and say, Hey, is there a way that I can bring this person over legally sponsor them? Is there a pathway and there are. You have companies like the bigger tech companies that are getting all the big H1-B visas, you have the bigger farming companies that are getting all the H2-B visas, because the smaller ones are not really availing themselves, the legalized programs that exist there, we have a lot of people who are coming into the country across the border, these individuals, they’re turning themselves into the Customs and Border Protection. So there’s an expectation at some time that, you know, some of them have fears of returning, I mean, that they’re going to start going through processes. These are individuals that will likely have employment authorization documents, within a year or so don’t forget about the American worker offer good wages, offer good benefits offer time off the world’s change right now in terms of how things work. So if there’s, you know, remote operations that you can offer, do that offer child care services, if you could, but you have to be creative.
So I would love to get your perspective since you’ve been involved in immigration law for so long, and you definitely have a great grasp on the history of a lot of immigration policy changes. I know with COVID, you know, the legal industry got backed up in general; just court cases being rescheduled, I would really like to know what the last two years for immigration law has looked for you how has it changed because of the pandemic updates on border restrictions? I’d love to get your take on that.
Raymond Lahoud 08:52
When the pandemic hit immigration really became incredibly, incredibly busy from the travel restrictions to a title 42 at the border expulsions to people that were detained in immigration custody that were getting COVID It was a disaster for a long time for a lot of people. A lot of people out there who are stuck in other countries, you know, travel bans were coming up and moving and changing by the minute. And companies. You know, the companies that we represent, the employers that we represent that keep operating there were essential. They were central companies and they were healthcare companies. They were companies that do industrial manufacturing or handle electricity and the like, so they needed their employees here. So during COVID, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out the ways to bring a lot of these employees into the United States through the waivers that existed. They’re reaching out to the State Department to seek special exemptions. And then at the same time, you know, the immigration to the deportation defense part of it really came to a halt. court hearings were halted for all like non detained cases, which took an already incredibly backlogged immigration court system and took it about I have four more years behind now. So you’re probably looking at a good 10 years before an immigration judge for a trial. And after continuances and the, like 10 cases COVID really spread pretty heavily, we have to file lots of petitions and requests to try to get clients that were detained by immigration out of custody within the United States. So a lot happened during COVID. And when it came to immigration, in those days, there were nights where I was awake at, you know, two, three in the morning, making sure a client was able to get back in.
We’re in such an interesting environment at this point, especially more recently with the Ukraine crisis, but we also had a changing of the hands in the White House, all the different elections. So there’s been a lot of transition period. And you know, we touched on it a little bit already. But the changes moving forward, I mean, now that the pandemic is having some type of release, besides needing that comprehensive immigration law changes, do you see any other changes now that we’re getting out of the pandemic, whether that’s Ukraine specifically, or just in general? What do you think is gonna happen here?
Raymond Lahoud 11:07
I think that we’ve, we’ve moved on to our next disaster with our next emergency, we’ll say, which is Ukraine right now. This is all that we hear about on the news, there aren’t COVID numbers at, you know, at the bottom, how do people are dying, how many people died and the like, I just feel that, you know, Ukraine has as taken over COVID. Now COVID brought on a time of remote hearings, which are still continuing now. The immigration courts, making fun of them with, you know, video, WebEx hearings in Zoom hearings, are able to move them quicker through the system and the like, and I have some serious issues. When it comes to remote hearings. You know, there’s huge due process concerns and having my client be able to testify in person where the judge can see his or her face. You know, there’s some very serious concerns in that. So they’re changes that, you know, came about from COVID, in terms of remote operations and the like, but I don’t know if they’re necessary to our benefit, even for, you know, immigrants work were coming in. And also, you would think that we really learned how to process things a lot faster. You know, what, we’re kind of hit with the crisis, and we just aren’t, you know, our embassies are still in a huge backlog when it comes to processing visas and, you know, fiance petitions and merit-based petitions and the like, but we are seeing movement here stateside within that, honestly, in terms of change. I mean, you just, it’s all patchwork.
If memory serves me correctly, I know the Biden administration has put more emphasis on visas for STEM. I think people coming either for schooling or for employment, if I’m remembering correctly, do you think that’s a step in the right direction, I know it’s another “patch,” but…
Raymond Lahoud 12:43
The United States has a huge number of international students in the United States, even locally here in what’s called the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, Lehigh, Lafayette, Cedar Crest Moravian, their F huge international student populations and international student populations are critical to cultural diversity to you know, just to the growth of the school and it’s bringing the world together. So as part of it, so students will come here from abroad, Saudi Arabia, countries, China, Japan, Australia, they’ll come to the F1 visa complete their courses here to get a bachelor’s degree. And if they typically, if you come in under the f1 visa, regardless of your degree, you’ll get 12 months of what’s called occupational practical training. And that’s because you 12 months of just training in your, your area of of studies, when you were in school, if you earned a STEM degree science, tech, engineering or math degree, you can get an additional 24 months of occupational practical training. To me, that’s great to me for bringing people here, and we’re educating them, we should keep them here and you know, give them jobs here. I mean, we there’s no reason that you know, we should be training talent and, you know, bringing in talent from across the world, and then just sending them, you know, back to, you know, their home country, particularly if they’re willing to stay and work here and become members of society in good standing that contribute pay taxes. Why not? Even if you were you came in, you knew you were coming in across the border, see, you’re still a kid, and then you turn over all of your information to the government when you’re 17 or 18 years old. And then, you know, four, eight years later, the Trump ministration says that they are going to get rid of it and it goes through courts who put it back in and take it out and put it back in and then there’s an injunction lifted, and these are hundreds of thousands of lives in people’s hands. People really have to recognize that there are faces to these individuals that have deferred action that have temporary protected status that there are faces to them. And it’s more than just politics. But could you imagine if you were in that position with deferred action, not knowing should I finish going to college should I spend the money should I take a job, what do I do next?
COVID already caused a very large limbo feeling if you’re coming from another country, or you’ve been here, and then you might be told, “oh, you gotta go back to where you came from.” And I can’t imagine being young when you come here and then going back to a country you don’t even really know.
So we wanted to get your viewpoints on Ukrainian refugees and immigration, how does this compare to other refugee crises that we’ve had in the past
Raymond Lahoud 15:27
Ukraine refugee crisis has brought the US government to its peak when it comes to refugees, and the like, they’ve acted very quickly, to bring in them what’s called Temporary Protected Status. You compare it to you know, what happened in Afghanistan and the lake, there are a lot of differences, I would say just that how quickly they are granted temporary protected status. You know, if you’re from Ukraine, there’s countries that are setting up policies like Canada to try to bring in people from Ukrainian. And I hope that these policies that these countries are putting together to help refugees in times of crisis will stay for other countries to beyond Ukraine’s. Hopefully this won’t be the last time that you’ll see other countries open their doors to help people. My mom and dad are both born in Lebanon and immigrated here during the civil war in the late 70s. And it was devastating. And the US opened its doors to the Christians from the north, they came in and became an integral part of the society life here in Pennsylvania, it’s good to see that in Ukraine, but we’re going to have other countries that are going to have similar issues. And who knows where, you know, President Putin may stop, we just really have to think long term about it. Because we also have to be realistic. And we can only handle so many people in our country. I hate to say that.
How does that factor into maybe some of the more, like, long-term policy changes that the country could implement? Is there a need to sort of rethink how we bring in refugees, and how many people we can take and how that process really goes?
Raymond Lahoud 17:02
There is, there is, but how do you rethink that? You know, how do you it’s even just saying, you know, how many people can we take in I know you just feel I feel internally bad because you don’t want to turn anybody away, that’s really hurting, you know, and but we have to, thankfully, I’m not in Congress to make up those decisions. But I think there has to be, you know, some sense of reason, and balance. And I’m not really sure what that is.
Like the US has to work together with other countries to make sure that we help them out of people that need to be helped. I don’t think it’s realistic for one country to sort of shoulder most of the burden.
Raymond Lahoud 17:38
It’s very hard to get refugee status. I mean, you don’t just kind of come into the United States and walk-in and may take years to go through I mean, if you’re going to the Iraqi refugee have to go in through the United Nations refugee program, there’s a huge process you have to go through, it’s not easy. The things that happened in Afghanistan kind of made known the issues with our you know, the refugee program and the lake. But it’s not, it’s not an easy process to go through. You can’t just walk into an embassy, US Embassy and say, Hey, I’m I’m afraid of where I’m living, I want to go to United States,
Right, yeah. And I imagine on top of even having to be in a situation where you have to flee your home.
Raymond Lahoud 18:15
Anybody that goes through pain, like a harm or fear, you know, I mean, whether it’s domestic violence, and those are the worst of cases where I have clients who are coming in suffered extreme domestic violence, like at the hands of their spouses and the like, and, and with those, you know, you know, what you do, you can send them back, you know, when that when the spouse is going to kill them on, you know, they’re dead on arrival. And so those are cases that we’re dealing with inside the United States right now. It’s like we have refugees coming in. But we also have asylees, here in the United States that were people who are in here applying affirmatively for asylum, we have a lot of people in the United States that are here on like a protective status we do. We do so much. And other countries are recognizing that if you take a look at Australia, so people are coming into the to Australia, they don’t go into the country, they sit off-island for a long period of time for they claim asylum or anything like that. The other countries that are out there, I think that they all have some pretty unique set of circumstances that are there, and in ours has a lot of issues that we have to really work through.
So you’ve written about policy changes in Pennsylvania aimed at helping undocumented immigrants, you know, entrepreneurs, people who are getting driver’s licenses, things like that. I was curious to get your insight on how you see these changes impacting both immigrants in the state as a whole, like what sort of have been the changes there?
Raymond Lahoud 19:33
Driver’s licenses in Pennsylvania, we’re seeing a movement. New Jersey, just fair aware, they pass legislation in the implement to the driver’s licenses, people who may not have a social security number or the like, right now in Pennsylvania. I believe it’s in the House Committee. It’s being discussed. I don’t see it moving out of there given the current makeup of the legislature. I don’t foresee it happening in Pennsylvania anytime soon. It does keep coming up a lot by members of the State House, I think it’s a good idea because people are driving. Let’s get real. There are people without papers in the United States. I mean, if we don’t realize that, I think that we’re just fooling ourselves. So, you know, it’s if it’s a way for them, they’re voluntarily providing their information, you know, why not register it, they can get their insurance. It’s not a federal issue. It’s a state issue as the as right to get driver’s licenses, it’s state-by-state. Pennsylvania considers that they look at it, they bring it up, but it always fills in committee doesn’t go anywhere. Pennsylvania, has the political planet as a swing state, as we all know, and immigration is a hot topic issue here.
I’m glad to hear that at least it’s even if it’s not, you know, moving forward, I think it being on people’s minds is a good thing. So in terms of changes like that, and maybe large scale changes, like we spoken about how we just need really large scale immigration reform, I was wondering, we could talk about the changes that you think need be made to both attract and retain immigrants in the United States, I think there’s a lot of talk about specifically, after the Trump administration, a lot of international students to stop coming here, you know, the United States is losing talent to countries like Canada and other places like that. So I was curious to get your thoughts on that.
Raymond Lahoud 21:14
COVID-19 opened up a different way of kind of operating, we had spoken earlier, where, you know, these companies are now recognizing that they could get that global talent opened up a facility in India or, you know, have somebody remote in from Canada, or actually just physically move their locations to Canada, or their offices or their manufacturing sites to another country, because it’s easier to bring labor in. I think that other countries are starting to embrace certain kinds of immigration, like I know that Canada is, you know, they’ve implemented that another investment-based immigration system, they’ve made it easier for Indian workers a certain kind of ticket during COVID in the light. So there are countries that are taking no more proactive approach to bringing in people but during the Trump administration, people from abroad really felt they weren’t welcomed in the United States. And I saw that a lot with students, and there was a significant number. It’s coming back, and I’m seeing the numbers come back, and just from the schools locally, that that we’re working with. So in terms of the International Student Program, you know, I do feel that it’s picking back up after COVID. And after the Trump administration, I just think we have to kind of keep going with it to make sure that, you know, we know that the people that we’re inviting into our country, we know that we have to welcome them here and treat them kindly, and work with them. Because we’re just we are one world one people. I’m really just, I think it’s a realist here, and that, you know, you have immigration lawyers who, you know, will just, you know, push things to like an end and say, No, open borders, and you have no people on another end that would say, you know, close everything to anybody. And but I think we have to have recent ability. I mean, you just can’t close the United States to everything. I mean, you can’t close the United States to the globe’s cultures, we just have to find a middle ground. And I hope that, you know, I was able to kind of present some of that reason that no middle ground, that’s there being immigration where it’s hard to take, you know, some things that Trump did weren’t necessarily I’m going to do but if somebody heard me say that, and I will now, you know, they would be shocked at it. But I think that’s what the issue is, is that there’s no meeting of minds. People just become enemies, because somebody has a different political opinion. You know, I think there really has to come a realization that we just can’t shut the borders down completely. And you can’t open the borders up completely. There just has to be a middle ground that we all have to reach in. Our members of Congress really have to grow up and hopefully, they will. And hopefully, they’ll work with the Biden ministration. We’ll get somewhere.
I actually have an interesting question. Since you’re located in Pennsylvania; Lancaster’s, a certified welcoming status for refugees. Do you think that’s helpful in situations like Ukraine? And like if more cities did that, do you see that as a positive direction?
Raymond Lahoud 24:06
I do, I do. I mean, like…Philadelphia has, like a welcome center for Lancaster was one of the counties like that. It’s really what they do with it is, yeah, it certainly hops. The more the better. Governor Wolf has actually taken very proactive actions towards the Ukrainian community here, even locally. But again, there’s more than just the Ukrainian community that are suffering from prosecution. So hopefully, it’ll open our minds to how we deal with other areas and in the future when this happens and how other countries can work together with it. But yeah, it does. It does help because it shows that we care you know, things like that only they can start shows that we care. You know, even if you know, New Jersey, they couldn’t give them give people a real ID driver’s license, but they gave them a license to drive and pencil and they can leave the state drive and add to it, it’s still a driver’s license so they can give What they want to know as much as they can give them and if that’s what Lancaster was able to give them, that’s what it was. They can’t give driver’s licenses but um, you know, that opens up a door for immigrants and to have stuff like that it’s good for them to have programs like that is good.
Well, excellent. Thanks again, Ray for joining us today. We had a great conversation.
Raymond Lahoud 25:20
It’s really been good being here talking about immigration. It’s an interesting topic. And hopefully, we’ll see things changing in the years to come and I’m here to talk to you whenever. Yeah, thank you for having me.
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