“The U.S. market is huge in size, without borders between states. So the market size and opportunity is incredible. Most native-born Americans do not realize that and they focus on their town or city or state when you can go so far beyond.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Weinstock, Managing Attorney of Weinstock Immigration Lawyers, who is one of the top immigration attorneys in the country helping companies secure their global talent by obtaining work visas and green cards for their employees. She founded her law firm to help immigrants achieve their American dream. As a result of hiring her, companies can secure the right work visas for their employees and families can stay together by obtaining green cards for their immigrant relatives in an easier way that will get them the best results faster.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for inviting me. My work as an immigration lawyer is my calling, since I have a deep passion for helping immigrants based on my own personal experience. I grew up in Israel with a very close family. On my mother’s side both parents were survivors of the Holocaust and on my father’s side both parents were able to flee Eastern Europe right before World War II and most of the other family members perished. So my grandparents and parents were also immigrants to Israel. My parents gave us everything that we wanted and many things that we did not even want and they demonstrated to us the value of hard work to pursue our dreams. I had very strong female role models in my family, such as my mother, who was the highest-ranking woman police officer in the Israeli police at one point and grandmothers and great-grandmothers who went to university in the early 1900’s where it was very rare for women to be accepted there.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
I wanted to be a lawyer from a very young age but after I finished law school I could not imagine myself actually being a lawyer practicing in Israel. The work was rather mundane, clients were very demanding and there was not much respect for the profession. I also had a burning desire to leave the small pond in Israel and explore the world. So I thought long and hard about whether to throw my education out the window and go back to school or try something else. I thought about practicing law somewhere abroad, like the U.S. or U.K. since my English was good. Luckily that summer I met my mother’s cousin who had a large condo in New York City and she invited me to stay with her. I thought why not give it a shot and then studied for the New York bar exam and passed it. And the rest is history.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I was very naïve when I came to the USA. I thought that I would just pass the bar exam and law firms would just line up to hire someone with my skills. The reality was very different. I did pass the bar exam but I could not get a job because I did not have a work visa and I could not get a work visa without a job offer. I went about finding a job in all the wrong ways. I faxed my resume to HR offices of large law firms expecting responses but did not know the HR departments were the wrong place to do it because they did not make the decision to hire lawyers, the partners did. I kept calling places and got nowhere but what I should have done instead was networking to get to know partners who could offer me jobs. Without a work visa, I could not get a social security number so I could not get a credit card. Back in the day, they only had ATM cards, not debit cards, so I had to walk about with wads of cash in my wallet looking over my shoulder if someone could rob me. The horror stories about robberies in New York City did not help much. Also I could not get an apartment without the work visa so it was very difficult going from one place to the other. I also went to consult with an immigration lawyer who told me I needed to either go back to school to get a student visa which I did not want to do after all my schooling, or get married for papers, which I was not willing to do. Luckily, I got a good second opinion.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I am grateful to a lot of people along the way, including distant relatives and various people who helped me. I am grateful for my mother’s cousin who offered me to stay with her in New York initially. I am also very grateful to my parents, who helped me financially to move to the United States and in the first few months of my life there. I am grateful for a second cousin who co-signed my first apartment lease as a guarantor because I did not have credit, otherwise I would be out on the street. What I am actually most grateful for is that during my most difficult time my parents did not pressure me to go back home to Israel. I had a particularly difficult time in my career in late 2000 and early 2001 after the dot com crash and there were no clients or money coming in for months and my burn rate in New York City was huge. I am grateful to my cousin and his wife for allowing me to stay with them for a few weeks in a tiny studio apartment in the heat of summer. It was a difficult time, the living room where I slept on a sofa did not have air-conditioning and their tiny fridge broke down and I had no money left. Even when things seemed hopeless at that time I kept on trying and was able to get a job that picked me up from that low point.
So how are things going today?
Today things are fabulous and very different from my humble beginnings. My team and I helped thousands of immigrants receive their work visas and green cards and to achieve their American team and received many accolades from our clients and colleagues who have chosen us for awards such as Best Lawyers in America. Our work environment is professional and yet friendly and collaborative and we employ a large team of immigration professionals who are as diverse as our clients. We all have different backgrounds, we represent many different nationalities, speak many languages between us and have team members from each continent except Australia. I am proud of building my own business and I am even prouder of the things we are able to accomplish for our clients, getting them work visas and green cards even in cases that seemed lost.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe my everyday work brings goodness to the world because we help our clients achieve their American dream. My daily work helps unite families and secure global employees in the jobs that they want for companies who need them. So every day when my team gets a visa or green card or U.S. citizenship approved is a day of joy that we celebrate. We also educate people about the broken immigration system we have in the U.S. and fight to bring about the change we really need. We also help people who are victims of crime, victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking in our pro-bono work which is also very rewarding. For example, we helped one of the lost boys of Sudan, who suffered incredibly after witnessing all his family members murdered to bring his wife over. He spent his young years fleeing from people who wanted to kill him, hiding and begging for food and shelter and afterwards many years in a refugee camp before he came to the U.S. The Jewish concept of “Tikun Olam” that says that if you save one soul it’s as if you save an entire world really resonates with me and I am very proud to say that we have helped save thousands of worlds.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
The immigration system the U.S. uses today is broken. It dates from 1952 and does not work for the 21st century. I would take out a lot of the quotas, especially for highly skilled immigrants such as professionals and advanced degree individuals as well as spouses and children of permanent residents. I would instigate a temporary work visa for skilled laborers who do jobs that Americans do not want to do such as landscaping, construction and hospitality jobs for which there are no legal options right now. I would also allow for legal path for U.S. citizenship for people who have been living here for many years and have been contributing, paying taxes or having children here so they can stay with their families.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Adaptability: Being able to quickly adapt to different environments and situations. For example, I had to completely change the way I interacted with people in order to adapt to the U.S. culture and mentality. In Israel people are very direct and they can tell you to your face that they don’t like you or that you look unwell. In the U.S. people are not as blunt and there is not much direct confrontation. When I was searching for a job a met a criminal lawyer who promised me he will help me in my job search. So I followed up and followed up because I took him at his word but after a while of not responding to my calls and messages I understood he did not really mean to help, he was just being nice. So I had to learn the difference between politeness and real intention and also how to keep my directness and at the same time be very careful to be tactful.
2. Perseverance: keep going despite the obstacles. Life in Israel is hard and you have to fight for what you want or what you already have. With my family’s history and grandparents who are Holocaust survivors I learned at a young age that I have to persevere even if life throws roadblocks at me. If I hadn’t persevered I would have left back home in 2001 and I would have given up a long time ago during many challenges.
3. Accept hardships and move on. A lot of people in the U.S. are used to things being well and do not experience many hardships. If you accept the real hardships in your life as learning and growth opportunities it will lead you to long term success. If you believe you have the power to overcome hardships and learn from them you will succeed. For example, all the hardships I faced when I first moved to the U.S., not being able to find a job, no apartment or credit have really helped me to understand there are better ways to immigrate to the U.S. and I can now better help others achieve this.
4. Keep pursuing. Happiness is an important value for me. What keeps me happy is actually the pursuit of various things in life including pursuit of happiness. You have to enjoy what you are doing in order to do it well and succeed at it and at the same time keep growing and experiencing new things.
5. Have fun. I strive to have fun at everything I am doing — whether work or my personal life. Having a short walking break or watching a funny video or connecting with my friends lift my spirits each day and keep me motivated to go on.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1. The U.S. market is huge in size, without borders between states. So the market size and opportunity is incredible. Most native-born Americans do not realize that and they focus on their town or city or state when you can go so far beyond.
2. Having even a slight advantage over the average in your industry is huge. I’ve discovered based on my own career that even having a slight advantage over my competitors can yield huge successes — for example being a bit faster in responding, being better in communicating with clients or things of that nature — yield long term success over the competition because Americans appreciate good quality service.
3. The personal freedoms that we enjoy in the U.S. is incredible and I am very thankful I have had the privilege to experience it by living here.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Oprah Winfrey and Sheryl Sandberg top my list as female inspirations and role models. Oprah is such an inspiration because she came from very humble beginnings with all the cards stacked up against her in life but she was able to accomplish so much and inspire so many people around the world. Sheryl is a huge inspiration because she focuses on empowering women to take higher leadership roles despite all the obstacles. Empowering women and inspiring women to achieve success are things that I am also very passionate about. There are many more people I would like to meet like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, both are incredible entrepreneurs and very interesting people to get to know, who were able to break a lot of conceptual and business boundaries. I am drawn to brilliant and entrepreneurial people so all of my choices represent brilliance.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for inviting me! It was a pleasure.