Gregg Rodgers, Immigration and Employment Law Attorney
“Seattle is the closest U.S. port to China. We are the gateway between China and the rest of the U.S. market. But it’s not just about transportation and trade. It’s about people.”
-Gregg Rodgers, attorney, Garvey Schubert Barer
Gregg Rodgers is an owner in the Seattle office of Garvey Schubert Barer, a law firm of over 100 attorneys with offices in Seattle, Washington; Beijing, China; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C., and New York, New York. He concentrates his practice on the areas of immigration (business, healthcare professionals, and families) and employment law.
Q. How long have you lived in the Seattle-Bellevue area?
A. I’ve lived here over 30 years. I am the son of a paper mill family, and we moved every three-to-five years when I was growing up. We moved to the Pacific Northwest when my family moved to Everett to work at the Scott paper mill. In my house, we were not allowed to say “Kleenex®.” It was always “Scotties®” or “tissue paper.”
After I started college and began making my own decisions, I decided to put down roots here. I love the environment – I’m able to ski and hike. And I like the demeanor of people here; it’s a different pace of life than in New York or Philadelphia. I’ve had opportunities to move elsewhere, but I’ve chosen to stay here.
Q. In your role as an attorney at Garvey Schubert Barer, you help people transition from one country to another. Can you give us an example of how you do this?
A. I help people and their families be able to go where their businesses takes them. The China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) is one of the largest shipping companies in the world. They have been our firm’s client since the late 1970s, when our firm helped develop an approach that would allow the U.S. and China to reopen maritime relations that had been closed over 30 years.
When maritime relations opened up again, it was a COSCO ship that was first to come to a U.S. port. I am the lawyer in charge of bringing their executives and managers to the U.S., wherever they work around the country.
So, for example, COSCO will notify us that they’d like to transfer someone from Dalian or Shanghai or Beijing. I prepare the documentation needed to file with the U.S. government – either in the United States or at a consulate in China – to allow them and families to come over here to continue service to their employer.
I’ve also worked with a number of high-tech Chinese companies as they’ve transferred some of their engineers to the U.S. to continue work here.
Q. Why is the service you provide critical?
A. The U.S. government works at a different pace than business does. Business decisions to set up a subsidiary or to send someone to provide services to a related company are often made quickly. But governmental authorization to allow a person to live and work in the U.S. can be significantly time-consuming and complex.
My job is to take away every opportunity for the U.S. government to ask questions, so decisions can be made as quickly as possible so my clients can continue running their businesses and the transition is smooth.
Q. Have you noticed any improvements in the way the U.S. government assists people who work globally?
A. Yes. During the last few months, the U.S. administration has recognized that visa processing has to be improved. They have designated China as one country in which they’re going to make significant improvements. That’s good news for Chinese people.
Q. What advantages does Washington State – and particularly the Seattle/Bellevue area – offer that draws Chinese people here?
A. Seattle and Bellevue are very small cities compared to many cities in China. I have talked to a number of Chinese people who are astounded when I point from our office (in downtown Seattle) to the headquarters of companies that they know well in China because of their worldwide leadership. I tell them that people who work for those companies come here for a reason.
We have an incredible resource of very smart people in the Pacific Northwest. They have been drawn to a number of world-leading companies such as Boeing, Microsoft, and PACCAR. Those smart people want to stay here because of the environment and resources we have. It’s a great place to live.
Q. You are also very involved with the Washington State China Relations Council.
A. I serve as chairman of the board of the Council. One of our firm’s named partners, Stan Barer, developed the legal theory that opened up maritime relations. He is one of the founders of the Washington State China Relations Council (WSCRC). Our firm has had a long involvement with it. When I came to the firm about 15 years ago it seemed like a natural connection for me as an immigration attorney.
The WSCRC is a private and non-profit business association dedicated to promoting stronger commercial, educational, and cultural relations between the state of Washington and the People’s Republic of China.
The Council represents businesses, government entities including ports and educational institutions, and cultural organizations. It provides trade support and information to many of Washington State’s leading corporations, from firms that have built long-standing direct business relations with China to small businesses who currently do business with China or are in the process of breaking into the Chinese market.
Q. What are some of the benefits member companies receive from participating in the WSCRC?
A. It has been an eye-opening experience for me to be working in the most trade-dependent state in the entire country, and to watch as China has become our most significant trading partner.
Back in 1979, when many of our founding members joined – Boeing, PACCAR, Expeditors International, and the Port of Seattle – they were trying to figure out how to do business in China. Now, some 30 years later, most of them have a good sense of it. It’s gratifying to see that these companies feel it’s important enough to maintain a relationship with each other. They learn from each other and pass on the benefits of their experience to the many Washington State businesses that are just getting into working with China.
Some of our member companies have hundreds – even thousands – of employees in China. Yet they consider the Council an important part of helping us help our legislators understand China better. They understand the significance of helping us maintain good and fair relationships.
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges businesses from China face when moving to our area?
A. People coming from China are beginning to recognize that the way business is conducted changes depending on where that business is conducted.
In the 1980s and 90s, many U.S. businesses that went to China made the mistake of thinking that the Chinese should conduct business the way U.S. businesses do. As a result, we saw a lot of failed businesses.
Chinese businesses that come to the U.S. face these same issues… and they need to make the same adjustments. It’s important to fully investigate and understand the options and risks – and to plan for those risks.
Q. How can a business learn about risks and plan for them?
A. Businesses should be prepared to pay for the service of dealing with these issues. For example, U.S. businesses that plan to establish a presence in China frequently pay a consultant to help them identify issues, and to learn about the business culture in China.
I haven’t seen that happening as much with Chinese companies that come to the U.S. Many Chinese businesses have come here and tried to operate independently, without becoming members of organizations and trying to learn from others. That isolation has prevented them from reaping some of the successes the U.S. market has for them.
Q. Are there other critical issues Chinese businesses who want to come to the U.S. should be aware of?
A. Yes. In China, many businesses are used to the government providing information to them. When they come to the U.S., they look to the Washington State Department of Commerce to tell them where to invest or what to do and how to do it.
This is a huge cultural difference, and they need to understand that in the U.S., the government will not do this work; they need to do it themselves. This is why organizations such as the Washington State China Relations Council can be helpful.
Q. In what ways are you optimistic about business relations between the United States and China?
A. I’m pleased that the Chinese government actively supports investment outside of China. That will help Chinese businesses and the Chinese people because ideas that are available to learn from outside of China can be brought back home to benefit them.
I’m pleased that the U.S. administration actively supports the increase in exports throughout the world, particularly in China.
I’m pleased to see the rule of law – in respect to intellectual property protections –recognized as being important. In the past, for example, a Chinese business might have said, “We’re going to take intellectual property and use it for ourselves without regard to the fact that it’s someone else’s property.”
As the Chinese become producers of more products, Chinese companies realize that these same laws are there for their protection and their profit. Recognizing the rule of law puts competition between Chinese and U.S. companies on a level playing field.
Q. Washington State has a unique relationship with China, doesn’t it?
A. Definitely. We’ve had that relationship, even before the 1970s, when maritime relations opened up. Seattle is the closest U.S. port to China. We are the gateway between China and the rest of the U.S. market.
And while we have ships going all over the world from the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett, it’s not just about transportation and trade. It’s about people.
The quality of the people who call the Puget Sound area ‘home’ is what really draws the Chinese here.
Q. How can we contact you?
A. Visit our website, http://www.gsblaw.com/ or call me at 206.464.3939 x 1404. Our offices are located at 1191 Second Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101.