By Chang Wang and Robert Webber, contributors
The Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Section of Immigration Law recently hosted the Second Annual “Immigrant Attorneys Among Us - Successes and Challenges of Our Colleagues Who Were Born Outside the U.S.,” a panel discussion and a continuing legal education program . Chang Wang, regular China Insight contributor, is a member of the Immigration Council at MSBA and served as a panelist at the program. The panel was moderated by Robert Webber, chair of MSBA Section of Immigration Law. Following is Webber’s conversation with Wang about his career at Thomson Reuters and in immigration law.
Webber: How did you land in Thomson Reuters? Could you tell us your experience with the job search?
Wang: As you can tell, I am one of the “non-traditional” law students. I was older than most of my classmates; I was one of the few non-native English-speakers in my class, and my publication list – a few dozen journal articles and essays –was too long for law firms. Neither did I envision myself practicing corporate finance in a downtown firm.
I received a scholarship from the University of Minnesota and, all through law school, I worked as assistant training program manager for the Office of International Programs and the China Center. During the second year of law school, I worked on a global strategy and due diligence project for Thomson Reuters (then Thomson Legal and Regulatory). After I had completed the project, I was offered a job, which I accepted.
Thomson Reuters is the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals. I lead special research projects and facilitate company joint initiatives with the academic and business communities. I also develop and manage Continuing Legal Education programs and diversity training programs and serve as a resident expert on legal, regulatory, language, and international project management for Thomson Reuters.
I consider myself the most fortunate in term of career development. As the common saying goes: “you work for company, but you also work for people.” My supervisor Rick King and colleagues at Thomson Reuters are great professionals with utmost integrity.
Webber: I understand you also practice immigration law. Regarding your current practice, please explain challenges versus benefits of being an immigrant.
Wang: In my company, I have been advising human resources involving various aspects of work visas and legal permanent residency under EB1 (b) and EB1 (c). Also, I practice immigration law part time, mostly pro-bono, for prominent artists and scholars under EB1 (a). I also serve as the official liaison to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for American Bar Association (ABA).
The benefits of being an immigrant practicing immigration law are quite obvious: first of all, immigration law is just part of my life. From F1 student visa to Optional Practical Training (OPT), from H1B work visa to permanent residency, I have gone through the whole process for myself and for my family: I-20 form, financial support affidavits, visa interviews, labor certificate, expert support letters, 140 petition, adjustment of status, work permit, travel documents, advance parole, etc. You have to deal with them all the time.
Secondly, language is of the utmost importance in cultural communication and legal representation of immigration cases. German philosopher Martin Heidegger said “language is the house of being, in its home man dwells.” If I were not bilingual, I would not be able to manage cross-border projects and represent Chinese clients.
Third, my academic background in arts and literature is indispensible in representing artists and scholars petitioning for legal permanent residency to the United States as “alien with extraordinary ability.” Being a member of both the academic and art communities allows me to competently and zealously advocate for them and present compelling cases on their behalf. I travel between different parallel universes: art, business, law, without being disoriented – thanks my 10 years academic training in the arts.
Admittedly, challenges abound. The language and cultural barriers we immigrants overcome are frequently underappreciated, for example, and people sometimes judge the competence and intelligence of others by family name and accent. As a Chinese immigrant in particular, I am sorry to say that, even though the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, we still feel the shadow it casts in American society.
Webber: How has your practice evolved? And how do you see it continuing to evolve?
Wang: My work at Thomson Reuters has evolved from legal information product development and international project management, to legal, regulatory, and compliance research and strategic partnerships. My immigration practice has evolved from non-immigration visas to employment-based immigration. I have received many requests for representation from leading artists, scholars, and business executives from China, and a big challenge for me is finding time to handle these requests.
Webber: We know you also teach law at several law schools and universities, could you tell us more about your teaching?
Wang: In 2006 when I graduated from law school, I was invited to join the faculty of School of American Law at China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL). CUPL is the largest law university in the world, and School of American Law is the first American style law school in China. CUPL is also a strategic partner of Thomson Reuters. I travel to China once a year to teach block courses on Comparative Constitutional Law, Immigration Law, and Legal Research in American Law based on West’s Analysis of American Law – the Key Number System, now the intellectual property of Thomson Reuters. I have also lectured at many law schools in China: Beijing Foreign Studies University Law School, Peking University Law School, and Tsinghua University Law School, to name a few.
From 2009, I began to teach comparative law and legal research courses at the University of Minnesota Law School and William Mitchell College of Law in the U.S.; the University of Lucerne and the University of Bern in Switzerland; the University of Milan in Italy, and the University of Vienna in Austria. My overseas teaching involves intense block courses of one or two weeks, four to five hours per day.
Immigration law is a very important part of my teaching: refugee, asylum, citizenship, due process, and equal protection. I appreciate the opportunities to interact with bright young students and high caliber faculty members around the world.
But going forward, I probably will reduce my teaching commitments and use my time to better serve ethnic minority communities in Minnesota by practicing immigration law. Recently I was appointed to Governor Dayton’s Diversity and Inclusion Council’s Civil Engagement Committee, and I look forward to working with my fellow Minnesotans to ensure that all Minnesotans have equitable opportunities to participate fully in the policy development within our democracy.
Webber: Finally, I would like to ask you to share three fun facts about the place you were born – Beijing.
Wang: One, according to Chinese census, there are about 22 million residents in Beijing, and another 5 million non-residents living and working in Beijing.
Two: the Beijing Subway, which began operating in 1969, now has 18 lines, 319 stations, and 527 kilometers (327 miles) of track, is the second longest subway system in the world, and is first in annual ridership with 3.41 billion rides delivered in 2014.
And three, this is actually not “fun”: the air quality in Beijing is beyond one’s worst nightmare. According to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, it is “crazy bad.”
When I was growing up in the 1970s and the 1980s, the sky was blue and the river was clear. It took just a few decades to completely destroy the environment. Beijing is suffocated by hazardous smog of PM2.5, the small particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (100 times thinner than a human hair) and a leading cause of lung cancer. The World Health Organization’s guideline for PM2.5 level is less than 25, Beijing is 200 on average, and frequently off the chart – over 500. You see blue sky less than 30 days per year, and never see stars at night.
Webber: Per Google Maps, how many miles is it from Beijing to your office in Minnesota?
Wang: 7,533 miles or 12,124 kilometers.
Chang Wang is chief researcher of Thomson Reuters, a member of the Immigration Council at Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA), and American Bar Association Section of International Law’s official liaison to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Robert Webber is the chair of MSBA Section of Immigration Law and the principal attorney at Webber Law Firm, LLC.