By Hope Katz Gibbs
Laurie Volk didn’t know she wanted to be an immigration lawyer when she graduated summa cum laude from UCLA in 1977. However, the international relations major did think that it would be interesting to go to law school.
In 1981, she graduated from UCLA Law School, and simultaneously got her MBA, which she completed, in part, at the French business school ESSEC. She then landed a job in the New York office of the international law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, where she met Steve Trow.
“Steve was a senior associate whom I met when I was asked to work on immigration matters,” she recalls. “Honestly, I thought my legal career was doomed. It didn’t take long for me to develop a tremendous respect for Steve, and thanks to him, I discovered that I liked immigration law much more than the other type of law that I had been practicing. Working with him opened my eyes to new possibilities.”
While she had always ridden horses and competed as an amateur in her youth, she gave up the sport until her return to the United States in the mid-1990s. It was then, after having her first child that she picked up the sport of fox hunting and participated in a three-day professional competition. Soon after, Laurie found a way to combine her understanding of the law with her new appreciation and deep understanding of the equine community.
We recently sat down to talk about her equine immigration practice.
Inkandescent Networking: What do you love about working with the equine community?
Laurie Volk: Everything! I love horses, and I never tire of learning about new and different horse sports. You would be amazed how many there are. My clients are active in the wide range of equine disciplines: show jumping, dressage, three-day eventing, mounted foxhunting, polo, steeplechase, thoroughbred racing, carriage driving — as well as the Western disciplines of reining, cutting, and barrel racing. These hard-working, successful individuals are at the top of their game. The fact that they want to come to the United States to pursue their dreams brings a contagious enthusiasm.
Inkandescent Networking: I am always impressed when you discuss the clients and issues equestrians are facing. Can you tell our readers about some of the high-profile clients whom you represent?
Laurie Volk: As you know from the years we have worked together, the British tradition of horse sports translates into many clients being from former British colonies — Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. Most of our equine clients, however, are from Great Britain, Ireland, Europe, Mexico, and South America. Many are Olympic-level athletes and world champions, such as gold-medal-winning show jumper Mario Deslauriers of Canada (who is now a U.S. citizen and represents the United States), Swedish Olympic dressage champions Pether Markne, and Per Sandgaarde, and many other world champions.
We also have the honor of representing many talented women because horse sports are the one of the few athletic venues where men and women compete against each other head to head. Some of my high-profile female clients include the Canadian Olympic eventing team (their team coach and chef d’equipe is based in Virginia). I also represent many horse trainers and highly skilled grooms who operate behind-the-scenes, but are critical to the sport.
At the risk of sounding less than humble, my specialty is obtaining visas for highly skilled grooms who usually have had difficulty getting visas in the past. The reason is that many people think a groom just mucks out stalls; but an experienced show groom is highly skilled and does so much more. An upper-level international show-jumper rider must have one or more highly skilled professional show grooms to care and manage the horses he or she competes. Upper-level show horses are themselves highly trained athletes that are frequently injured and must compete with ongoing conditions that may compromise their performance.
Nevertheless, they are regularly drug-tested at international competitions and must meet stringent standards. Horses at this level of competition are worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions even, and their owners demand expert care from skilled grooms. Since horses cannot speak for themselves, these professionals constantly monitor them. As a result, grooms must be highly knowledgeable about equine health and fitness and know each animal as an individual.
A professional show groom must feel the horse’s legs for swelling; carefully wrap the legs several times a day; take its temperature; administer injections; supervise acupuncture, massage, and other specialty treatments; provide first aid; and observe each animal closely. The fact is that high-performance horses are prone to life-threatening gastrointestinal disorders that initially can be detected only by very slight changes in their normal behavior. Only a highly experienced groom who knows the individual horse can detect the onset of such conditions, treat them accordingly, or notify the veterinarian.
Inkandescent Networking: Can you share with our readers some examples of the cases that you are working on?
Laurie Volk: I am currently working on a visa for a top polo player from Chile, Juan Eduardo Jaramillo. He is ranked #7 in his country and is hoping to compete and instruct at an international polo school in Middleburg.
I recently obtained an O-1 (extraordinary ability visa) for a French racehorse trainer who will probably have a horse running in the Kentucky Derby next May. One of my most entertaining clients is a French Canadian cowboy, a champion reiner, who has trained with the best in Texas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. He has a rich, beautiful French accent and peppers his English with “ain’t “ and “I reckon.”
Inkandescent Networking: Tell us about the immigration issues that challenge the equine community.
Laurie Volk: The toughest issue is obtaining visas for less-skilled labor for which there are no obvious categories under current U.S. immigration law. There are many undocumented workers in the equine industry. Part of my job is to make certain my clients can qualify their employees for the proper visa.
Inkandescent Networking: How has immigration law changed in the years you have been working in the field?
Laurie Volk: It is becoming more difficult to obtain visas and green cards for my clients because of a gradual, but persistent, tightening of all the standards at the USCIS. As you note in your blog, The Invisible Fence, this is problematic on a variety of levels. I do hope this trend shifts in the near future, and that as a country we can be more practical and pragmatic about immigration regulations.
Inkandescent Networking: While you originally didn’t want to practice immigration law, you quickly discovered you liked its human aspects. How do you feel today?
Laurie Volk: I absolutely love what I do. It is incredibly fulfilling to work with horses, and the people who work closely with them. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Visas for Equestrians
P-1 Athlete Visa
Suitable for show riders, dressage riders, eventers, jockeys, reiners, polo players, carriage drivers, and hunt staff
P-1-S Essential Support Visa
Suitable for grooms or other essential support personnel
O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa
Suitable for the highest-level riders, horse trainers, show grooms
J-1 Training Visa
Suitable for training in many equine occupations such as groom and barn manager
H-1B Professionals and Specialty Occupation Visa
Suitable for equine-related professionals such as veterinarians, managers, and others who hold positions that require a university-level degree
The Visa Process
Once a person has identified a job and an employer, Laurie and Trow & Rahal will review the person’s background and proposed job duties and suggest the best course of action. The process usually involves two steps:
To review information about additional visas for “Athletes & Entertainers,” click here.
Questions? Contact Laurie Volk at email@example.com.