Sunday Story: Purpose and Passion

Lakshmi Challa typically runs into people who find themselves leery of immigration. The India native, who has lived in Virginia most of her life, doesn’t take it personally.

“You might not like immigration, you might not even like immigrants, but if you want our GDP to grow, we need immigrants,” she says. “When you look at immigration from an economic perspective, it’s in our best interest.”

The Richmond lawyer has completely practiced immigration regulation for greater than 20 years, serving to native and nationwide corporations recruit a world workforce and entice international direct funding.

The governor’s workplace reported final yr that whereas immigrants comprise almost 13% of the state’s inhabitants, they account for 30% of Virginia’s physicians and surgeons and 23% of STEM jobholders. Foreign-born staff maintain 57% of the state’s private care jobs and 39% of jobs in constructing and dwelling companies. In addition, the greater than 20,000 worldwide college students attending Virginia schools and universities spend greater than $717 million a yr.

“Not only are they students and employees, they’re consumers buying houses, cars and groceries,” Challa says. “The bottom line is, unfavorable immigration laws hurt the economy.”

According to Challa, there isn’t any trade proper now that’s not affected by a scarcity of assets.

“Our financial and tech firms, engineering companies, hospitals, landscaping and hospitality sectors rely heavily on immigrants,” she says. “In addition, we’ve been losing foreign direct investment. What better way to grow an economy than other people’s money?”

Challa says there’s a false impression on the market that immigrants take jobs from Americans. “Just as an example, a few years ago North Carolina posted 1,400 agriculture jobs, and only 10 U.S. citizens applied.”

In truth, agriculture is what first introduced Challa’s household from India to the United States within the Nineteen Forties.

“Chapel Hill was our Plymouth Rock — my grandfather came here as a premier expert on agricultural economics,” she says. “At that time, Asians weren’t allowed to engage in the U.S. immigration process.”

Challa was born in India however moved to the United States at age 3 together with her mother and father. Her father acquired a doctorate in geology from the University of North Carolina earlier than working at Virginia State University.

“I graduated from Petersburg High School with the proud crowd of 1982,” Challa says. “After high school, we moved back to India. Like most Indian fathers, mine wanted me to go to medical school, and they had an opening.”

But Challa had a unique path in thoughts. Ever since she was little, she’d needed to be a lawyer. “My father was very particular about books and made sure I read the classics — Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ really spoke to me,” she says. “I fought tooth and nail against medical school. So instead, my parents arranged a marriage for me.”

One night time over just a few chilly beers together with her new husband, Chakr, she confessed she needed to go to regulation faculty. Years handed, and he or she thought her dream was forgotten.

“When we finally moved to the United States, Chakr bought me an LSAT book,” Challa remembers. “We had a daughter, were making $800 a month and didn’t have a car. I thought law school was unrealistic. But he told me if I wanted to go, we would figure it out.”

Challa was accepted to the University of Richmond School of Law. Because of her personal expertise with the immigration course of, she had an affinity for immigration regulation.

“When I moved back to Virginia, where I’d grown up, I effectively lost my permanent resident status because I had stayed outside the U.S. beyond the statutory period allowed,” Challa says. “Immigration is a long journey — it’s extremely complicated, and there’s little access to information, even with the internet. If you graduate from MIT, work at a Fortune 500 company, and are from India or China, your pathway for residency is about a 12-year wait. Most people don’t know that.”

Challa labored at a downtown regulation agency earlier than going out on her personal. “I wanted space for supporting lots of pro bono work,” she says. “Along with corporate clients, I help noncitizen victims of domestic violence, struggling families and Afghan refugees. I’m sure Ukrainians will need our help, too. Hopefully more lawyers can step in and help.”

Challa Law Group employs 10 folks, a measurement excellent for Challa to maintain her arms in every part.

“These aren’t just forms — these are people’s lives, children’s lives,” she says. “If we do something wrong, they will have to leave the country. Their entire lives will be disrupted. We can never lose sight of our purpose or our passion.”

Many long-term authorized residents, not but residents, reside in fixed worry of being denied citizenship and having to uproot their household and begin over. “It’s a stressful way to live,” Challa says.

At the beginning of the pandemic, immigration bans led to elevated authorized problems. Non-natives who had traveled to their house nations for enterprise or private visits grew to become caught, unable to return to their kids within the U.S. Challa’s workplace acquired so many calls, they started internet hosting weekly webinars free of charge.

“We continue to host immigration webinars every Wednesday,” Challa says. “People from all over the world have participated, and we’re really hoping to give clarity and equip them with the tools they need.”

Challa says her purchasers encourage her to work onerous and assist put her life into perspective.

“They didn’t let their challenges define them or make them bitter,” she says. “Instead, they were resilient and rose above. They were able to see the light.”

Challa says these are the very traits that make the best American. “People forget we are a country of immigrants,” she says. “Throughout history, Americans have been resistant to nationalities different from their own. But those immigrants didn’t come in and change the fabric of the United States, they only enriched it and made it more colorful.”

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