Equestrian Attorney Laurie Volk
Who she is: Laurie 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.
What she does: 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.
Why she does it: 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.
THE HORSE WHISPERER
By Hope Katz Gibbs
I recently sat down with attorney Laurie Volk to learn more about her interesting line of work. Following is a Q&A with the immigration attorney who focuses on helping people working in the equestrian industry acquire the visas they need to perform and compete in the U.S.
Question: What do you enjoy 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.
Question: Tell us 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.
Question: What are 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.”
Question: What immigration issues 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.
Question: 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.
Question: 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
- Available for athletes who compete at “an internationally recognized” level of performance.
- Must be able to document competitive achievements with strong show record, awards, prizes, publicity and / or letters of support from experts in the field.
- Must have an offer of employment from a horse operation that requires an athlete of this caliber.
P-1-S Essential Support Visa
Suitable for grooms or other essential support personnel
- This visa is a derivative to the primary P-1 visa, and cannot be applied independently.
- It requires the individual to have prior experience with a primary P-1 visa holder.
O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa
Suitable for the highest-level riders, horse trainers, show grooms
- Available to persons of extraordinary ability in athletics.
- Good for three years, renewable.
- The rider / trainer must establish that he or she is one of the small percentage who has risen to the top of his or her field of expertise.
- A horse trainer or groom who does not compete as an athlete can be treated as an artist in the performing art of animal training.
J-1 Training Visa
Suitable for training in many equine occupations such as groom and barn manager
- Individual applies through special sponsoring organizations.
- Not feasible for nationals from some countries.
- Requires a comprehensive training program by a host employer.
- Applicant must have past experience and a career path consistent with a training program.
- Requires temporary health insurance.
- Good for up to 12 months, maximum, and cannot be renewed.
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:
- Step 1: Obtain Approval of Petition from USCIS Trow & Rahal, P.C. will prepare a visa petition with supporting employer letter and required documentation. This step usually takes several weeks or more.
- Step 2: After obtaining approval from the USCIS, the person will apply for the visa at the U.S. Embassy in his or her home country—unless he or she is already in the United States in another valid visa category that allows the person to qualify for a change-of-visa status. This second step of the process is administered by the Department of State and requires the person to submit a visa application form with the U.S. Embassy. The applicant must schedule a visa appointment, where they will have a brief interview with a consular officer. The embassy will retain the applicant’s passport, enter the visa on the passport, and return it to the person when ready. At that point, the person is free to travel to the United States on the new visa.
To review information about additional visas for “Athletes & Entertainers,” click here.