By Amit Acco, Partner |

I am delighted to share that I was recently invited to participate as a panelist at the AILA-CILS conference in Amsterdam, where we embarked on a captivating exploration of the future of immigration practice.

The session, titled “A Glimpse into the Future of Immigration Practice – Do We Still Need to Relocate People?” was one of the highlight of the conference, drawing on the insights outlined in AILA’s landmark 2016 report on the evolving landscape of immigration law practice.

Throughout our discussion, we delved into a myriad of topics, including the shifting dynamics of fees and pricing, the transformative potential of technology, evolving consumer demands, staffing adaptations, and the broader implications for global mobility.

As panelists, we were tasked with providing thoughtful responses to thought-provoking questions, offering invaluable insights into the future trajectory of immigration practice in an increasingly interconnected world.

The Panel was great success, and I would like to extend my sincerest appreciation to the esteemed panel members, David Heneghan, Laura Devine, Amit Acco, Janice Flynn, Marcel Reurs, and Lois Gimpel Shaukat.  Your wealth of knowledge, diverse perspectives, and invaluable insights have greatly enriched our understanding of the future landscape of immigration practice.

Additionally, I would like to express our profound gratitude to our esteemed moderator, William Hummel, for his exceptional facilitation and preparation throughout the session. William, as always, adept management and insightful contributions that have fostered engaging discussions and enhanced the overall experience for all participants. William’s expertise and commitment to excellence have been instrumental in making this panel discussion a resounding success.

In the next few lines I will share with you my points presented, in a question and answer model, which represent Kan-Tor & Acco approach to the discussion.

Fees and Pricing

Q. There was a prediction that lawyers and services that focus on niche areas like immigration would move towards hourly billing (versus flat fees). Are you seeing that occur?

A. In response to this prediction, the trend is leaning towards maintaining flat fees rather than transitioning to hourly billing. Flat fees offer several advantages such as minimizing interactions with client procurement departments, providing stability in budget forecasting, and simplifying comparison for clients, especially on international platforms where immigration services are perceived as commodities. While hourly billing may introduce uncertainty in costs and complicate comparison, we’ve observed a strategic approach where flat fees are kept for primary services, with hourly rates applied for additional matters, ensuring transparency and fairness to clients.

Q. Are you finding that fees have to be adjusted to compete against non-lawyers or do-it-yourself tech programs?

Despite the emergence of non-lawyer entities handling immigration work, such as private companies and relocation firms, adjustments in fees have not been a common practice.

Instead, strategies to combat competition include potential fee adjustments to remain competitive, albeit challenging due to financial constraints. Alternatively, some firms consider developing new entities specializing in relocation services to present seemingly lower immigration fees while maintaining profitability through bundling with other services.

Accepting the Power of Tech

Q. Have you seen tech allowing for greater productivity?

A, Indeed, advancements in technology, particularly AI, have significantly enhanced productivity within immigration practices. AI functions as a co-pilot, aiding in tasks ranging from proofreading to conference preparation. Its ability to automate responses on websites, maintain data accuracy, and facilitate team collaboration streamlines processes and increases efficiency. Furthermore, tech-driven tools have expedited document processing, risk assessment, and applicant support, ultimately improving decision-making processes and benefiting both practitioners and applicants.

Q. What about when dealing with the government? Has technology increased the ability to get more consistent or faster decisions?

Technology has notably improved the efficiency and consistency of government processes in handling immigration matters. Automated application processing, risk assessment, and fraud detection leverage AI algorithms, reducing manual workload and processing times. Additionally, data analytics enable policymakers to evaluate policy effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. Overall, technology-driven solutions have accelerated decision-making processes and enhanced the accuracy and security of immigration procedures.

The Changing Consumer

Q. What new demands are you seeing from consumers? Technology-related demands? Service level-related demands? Speed of Service? Others? How do you try to meet these demands without raising fees?

A. Consumer demands increasingly revolve around technological solutions and streamlined service experiences. However, clients sometimes struggle with overly complex technologies, prompting the need for simplified status reports and continuous improvement without fee increases. Meeting these demands involves aligning technological solutions with user capabilities, providing transparent communication, and leading technological advancements in the industry while maintaining competitive pricing.

Q. How are new client referrals made? Still via word of mouth? Social Media? Online reviews?

A. New client referrals primarily stem from word-of-mouth recommendations, especially from satisfied corporate clients and HR managers. These recommendations underscore our commitment to high-quality service and satisfaction. Additionally, online forums, blogs, and targeted advertising channels play a role in acquiring private clients, emphasizing tailored marketing efforts based on client segments and preferences.

Staffing Changes

Q.The trend of 100% remote working has begun to recede (in the US). Are you seeing similar?

A.While remote work surged during the COVID-19 pandemic for safety reasons, recent events, such as the conflict in Israel, have reemphasized its relevance. Flexibility in remote work policies remains crucial for adapting to unpredictable circumstances and maintaining team preparedness. Implementing policies for remote work training ensures resilience and operational effectiveness in various scenarios.

Q.Is there a move towards contractor workers?

A. KTA does not retain contractor employees as a policy due to compliance challenges. However, to stabilize HR amidst turmoil, we’ve transitioned lawyers to contract partners, prioritizing productivity and efficiency within teams.

Q.What about the inflationary push on salaries? How to manage this versus the client needing to cut cost?

A.We address salary inflation and client cost-cutting by fostering partnership and collaboration. Our approach focuses on maintaining competitive pricing while prioritizing service quality and client satisfaction, ensuring mutual benefit and sustainable growth.

The Future of Global Mobility

Q.With more remote work, is there even a need to relocate? Have you seen government authorities ask this question?

A.The rise of remote work prompts questions about the necessity of relocation, especially amid advancements in digital documentation and permits. Government authorities may increasingly explore digital solutions, reducing the need for physical visas/permits. Immigration priorities may focus on boosting foreign employees while preventing illegal stays, reflecting shifts towards remote work and digitalization.

Q.What may be the immigration priority of any new government in your jurisdiction?

A.Immigration priorities may revolve around facilitating foreign employee presence while addressing security concerns and optimizing immigration policies. Collaboration between government authorities and immigration practitioners becomes vital in navigating evolving priorities and ensuring compliance with regulatory changes.

Q.What is the biggest challenge you see coming for those in Global Mobility?

A. Security concerns, influenced by geopolitical events like the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, pose significant challenges. Potential escalations in conflicts raise alarms, emphasizing the importance of preparedness and resilience in global mobility practices amidst uncertain geopolitical landscapes.