Sidebar Jacob Muklewicz ‘01
Jacob Muklewicz ‘01 is a shareholder and chair of the employment and immigration practice group at the Salt Lake City-based firm Kirton McConkie, Muklewicz. “There are a lot of people who see the system as broken, and the system is broken because we cap out the number of visas,” Muklewicz said. “A lot of people are here unlawfully because they come here lawfully initially. They want to play by the rules, but the system is so upside down that it doesn’t accommodate and reward the people who abide by the rules. I have the ethical obligation and duty to counsel people to comply with the law.”
Growing up in Steubenville, Ohio—a city along the Ohio River in the heart of America’s Rust Belt—talks of strikes, walkouts, and collective bargaining agreements were commonplace chatter throughout Jacob Muklewicz’s ’01 hometown.
Steubenville, a former industrial hub for coal mining, glass factories, steel, and paper mills, once drew a thriving immigrant community to the Ohio River Valley. Muklewicz’s own ancestors immigrated to Steubenville from Poland around 1902. He originally pursued a law degree with dreams of working for the National Labor Relations Board, having been inspired by the Ohio River Valley’s working class. But after he enrolled at The Ohio State University College of Law, Muklewicz realized something much closer to home influenced his professional calling: his great-grandparents, great aunts and great uncles who had all immigrated to the United States.
“I heard a lot of inspirational things from my immigrant ancestors along the lines of, ‘America is a lot better than what we left. It’s the land of freedom, it’s the land of opportunity, but we need to make it better,’” Muklewicz said. “I wanted to get a law degree to make America better.”
A summer clerkship in the immigration and corporate and employment sections at the Columbus-based law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease provided Muklewicz’s first taste of immigration law. The experience, which gave him the opportunity apply his foreign language skills to his legal training (Muklewicz is fluent in Polish, Spanish, and Russian), resonated deeply with him. He worked for the firm as an associate for nearly four more years after he graduated from Moritz.
Muklewicz was also the only student in his graduating class at Moritz to complete a Certificate Program in International Trade and Development, which is designed to train law students with a background international trade, investment and commercial law. The program offered a chance to expand the breadth of his legal education, eventually opening doors into employment-based and business-based immigration practice.
“Why did I choose to go to Ohio State? It’s one of the best law schools in the country,” he said. “My professors knew that I was a kid from the Rust Belt, that I was from Steubenville, that I was pro labor union, I was pro working class. In my second year, my professor would ask me to brief a case and he would never ask me from the perspective of the union or the workers. It forced me to think critically on both sides of an issue. That is key—not just for immigration law, but any aspect of the law.”
Now, as shareholder and chair of Employment and Immigration Practice Group at the Salt Lake City-based firm Kirton McConkie, Muklewicz advises multinational corporations, foreign nationals, local businesses, and investors on employment-related immigration law. Among his many duties, he counsels companies and foreign nationals seeking H-1B visas, which allow businesses to employ workers in specialty fields like technology, engineering, and math.
Each spring, employers file H-1B visas on behalf of graduating international students who came to the U.S. legally on student visas and are subsequently offered a job. There are only 65,000 H-1B visas available for the whole country each year, however, plus an additional 20,000 for foreign nationals who acquired an advanced degree (Master’s degree or higher) from a U.S. college or university. More than 230,000 applicants applied for an H-1B visa last year, leaving international students a 1 in 4 chance of hitting the lottery. International students who aren’t awarded an H-1B visa either have to reenroll in school and try again, or leave the United States.
“The hardest and most frustrating part of my job is picking up the phone in June and calling an HR director or calling the owner of a company who has filed this petition for a brilliant, wonderful international student who could bring so much—who does bring so much—to the U.S.,” Muklewicz said. “It’s grossly unfair for someone who has come here as an international student, never fallen out of status, never broken the law, and he or she can’t get a work visa, but we’re talking about giving green cards to people who have been here out of status for 20 years.”
There’s a deeply rooted misconception that many undocumented people in the U.S. completely disregard the law, he said. But many don’t realize—both current and hopeful U.S. citizens alike—how restrictive America’s immigration system can be.
“There are a lot of people who see the system as broken, and the system is broken because we cap out the number of visas,” Muklewicz said. “A lot of people are here unlawfully because they come here lawfully initially. They want to play by the rules, but the system is so upside down that it doesn’t accommodate and reward the people who abide by the rules. I have the ethical obligation and duty to counsel people to comply with the law.”
Despite the complexities, frustrations, and uphill battles of immigration law, many career milestones come to mind. Muklewicz remembers one client in particular, a successful business owner with his own company in Mexico. His client feared that his accomplishments—and the size of his 3,000-employee business—could warrant unwanted attention, given the country’s uneasy political and social climate. He was afraid, he told Muklewicz, that his children could be kidnapped from school.
Muklewicz was able to help his client receive an L-1 visa, which allows a foreign company to transfer an executive to the U.S. to establish a domestic branch here. Within two years, his client received his green card. He later invited Muklewicz to have dinner with him and his family at their new home in the U.S. to celebrate.
“Just to be able to see how happy they were to be in this country, to be able to work, to be able to go to school and how thankful they were, it reminded me of sitting at the dinner table with my grandparents and listening to them say how lucky and how fortunate they were to be here,” Muklewicz said. “I feel that many times over when working with my clients. I feel like I’m passing on the torch my grandparents gave to me and allowing others to have an opportunity at the American dream.”