Brad Maier Knows No Boundaries
Helping foreign professionals realize their American dreams
Published in 2011 Oregon Rising Stars magazine on July 11, 2011
Brad Maier had left the Oregon Air National Guard in 1989 and was searching for a social service job when fate intervened: He heard about a local family that was helping a family of Russian immigrants. “That was the first time I’d heard of Russians in Portland,” Maier recalls. “It was the very beginning of the refugee resettlement wave from the former Soviet Union.”
This Russian family had been assisted by Portland nonprofit Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees, or SOAR, whose mission is to help refugees from around the world settle in the U.S.
“It sounded fascinating,” Maier says. “I called up the organization and they were in desperate need of volunteers to help the families.” He became one. Then he was hired as a case manager.
But he felt compelled to do even more.
“So I created the immigration [legal] counseling program for SOAR,” Maier says. “Immigration, as a federal agency, has a program just like the IRS so that nonattorneys can practice before it. … But you have to work for a nonprofit, and you can only help people who can’t afford lawyers.”
For the next 10 years, Maier served as an accredited representative before U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), interviewing clients, filing paperwork for citizenship applications and working with asylum seekers.
“But I was bumping up against the limit of what I could do as an accredited rep,” he says. “I wanted to become a lawyer so I could do more.”
Today, Maier is senior counsel at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in Portland. He works largely with companies wishing to relocate foreign professionals to the U.S. and needing to arrange the proper immigration status for them. He also helps individuals with various immigration concerns.
“It’s good for everybody to have the most talented people in the world to be able to come here and work for our companies,” says Maier, who is the elected chair of the Oregon chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Though I’m primarily working with businesses that are bringing in workers, it’s still the immigrant experience—it’s people that are coming to the States and living their dreams.”
Take the Oregon Symphony Association. A few years ago, it discovered coveted talent for its next president. Only glitch: Elaine Calder wasn’t a U.S. citizen. Maier took her case before USCIS.
“We had to prove that she was extraordinary in her field, which was the management of performing arts organizations,” says Maier. “We had to show that she had received national and international press. For someone like a violinist or a cellist, if they are at the top of their game that’s usually pretty easy.” Making a case about a manager, on the other hand, was a challenge.
In the end, USCIS granted the necessary visa, and Calder has proven vital to the symphony. “It’s just been nothing but very positive and amazing press about the work she’s been doing,” Maier says.
Others he has assisted with immigrant relocation include performers with the Oregon Ballet Theatre; a runner from Uganda who trains U.S. Olympic long-distance runners; and an Argentinian physician who is making breakthroughs in diagnosing heart disease in women. Maier has also helped the Portland LumberJax bring in professional lacrosse players. “Being able to go to the game and to point to the players,” he says, “you kind of feel like a proud papa.”
While working for SOAR, Maier met his wife, Chris, who worked for U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, providing immigration services to constituents. Today, she does the same for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. Their daughter, Katie, hears a lot of shop talk at the dinner table—“to a fault,” Maier admits.
And the immigrants he helped in his “refugee days”? Every now and then, Maier hears how some of them are faring. In February, while uprisings sparked turmoil in the Middle East, 150 demonstrators gathered on Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, calling for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down.
“One of the guys [who ended up] on the front page of The Oregonian was someone I’d helped bring to the States back in ‘92,” Maier says with pride. “He was a guy that [the U.S.] had granted refugee status to because he’d fled Gadhafi’s regime.”
Things change fast in the area of immigration law. “You’ve got to pay attention to the details all day, every day,” Maier says. “If you mis-check one box on a single form, an application could get denied. The first thing I do every morning is spend 15 minutes trying to figure out what changed since I went to bed the night before.”