Labor of Love: A Global Immigration Career Story

June 22, 2017

Our Careers Discovery series explores the real-life career journeys of Pro-Link GLOBAL employees. 

Global mobility – and global immigration specifically – is such a niche market that most professionals don’t begin their careers on a pathway to the field. You may be wondering, how do I get into this industry? How did others get their start? 

Pro-Link GLOBAL Knowledge Management Specialist Kent O'Neil shares how he began his career in the global immigration sector:

In a word, my career journey into global immigration was motivated by love. It would probably be more professional-sounding to say that it was my love of helping people, my love of writing, love of an international law class that I took in law school, or love of the noble goal of greater understanding between nations through the free movement of their people. But instead, it was that love that often motivates men to the most grand and crazy of adventures . . . the love for a beautiful woman.

I met my wife in 2007 when the multinational company I was working for sent me on a three-month assignment to Pakistan: something I would only later learn is called an “intra-company transfer” (or ICT to those of us now hip to the industry’s many acronyms). A small-town Pennsylvania redneck from the hills of the Appalachians, I was working as a call center operations manager in what was intended to be a “bridge job” after my tax consulting firm closed in one of those market crash/bubble burst/recessions of the early 2000s. In hindsight, that “bridge job” turned out to be so much more than just a bump on the road to the next opportunity. It led me to my new family, a new career in international business and global immigration, and to an understanding of a world far larger – yet simultaneously smaller and more interconnected – than I’d ever imagined.  

global immigration career discovery

When I boarded the plane that first time bound for Pakistan, I had a Google-search understanding of where I was going to be living and working for three months (and all that my redneck friends and family knew was that it was one of those “stans” in Asia that was frequently in the news). However, when I returned, the story I would tell was one of a fascinating, multifaceted country of great people and beautiful land with proud history and rich traditions at a complex crossroads of political, cultural, and economic challenges and opportunities… and an incredible woman named Sarah.

That initial three-month ICT assignment lead me back to Pakistan (but mostly to Sarah) and a rewarding three-year placement in the corporate legal department in Karachi. There, my daily duties included multinational corporate governance, communications and technology law, contract and lease negotiation and drafting, financial audits, and governmental compliance in any number of countries spread across North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. Sarah and I married, made a home in Karachi and then later in the Philippines, and eventually immigrated back to the United States with our son Deakin in tow. Along the way, we made great friends in multiple countries and had amazing, life-changing experiences (both good and bad) that this redneck from the hills of western Pennsylvania would never have imagined. And as our family’s sole “Immigration counsel,” I was initiated into the – complex, sometimes frustrating, even scary, but never boring – world of global immigration. 

Was I looking for a career in global immigration? No, I think it was looking for me. Like many expats that return home after a few years abroad, I found that home had changed – or maybe I had – and I had a bit of adjusting to do to find my next adventure in life. I was doing some professional speaking and charitable work, writing a novel, and taking some free-lance projects, when one day Sarah came into my home office with an online job advertisement from a company that was a “boutique global corporate immigration firm.” “This sounds exactly like you. I really think you should apply. Writer, business experience, legal background a plus, experience as an expat a plus…” I read the ad, Googled the company and read their story, read employees’ LinkedIn profiles, and decided I’d take the job (if they offered) even before I applied and learned the salary and benefits. (Don’t tell HR.) I’d found a home where my crazy, eclectic resume of economics and law degrees, years in business, expat experiences abroad, and passion for people and cultures seemed to fit.

global immigration careersThis month, I celebrate my one-year anniversary in global immigration with Pro-Link GLOBAL. During that time, I’ve researched, analyzed, and written hundreds of online and print articles, blogs, white papers, e-books, client alerts, and internal process documents on dozens of countries in all corners of the globe; taught team trainings; and consulted on cases for Fortune 500 companies, small start-ups, and everything in between. I’ve written on Brexit, Frexit, and “Trumpsit” (my word, patent pending)… America First, Australia First, and Kiwis First… the TSS replacing the 457... the IMTAs and KITAs in Indonesia… LMIAs in Canada… the MOM in SNG… the UAE, the AU, the EU and its ICT… APAC, ASEAN, EMEA, GCC, BRICS, the TTP and TTIP, NAFTA and EFTA… Saudization, Emiratization, Kuwaitization, Qatarization, and Zambianization… and I still learn something new every day. And to top it off… I work from home; so, most days I connect and collaborate with teammates around the world and am still there to greet my son coming home from school. I’m so appreciative that global immigration found me. In a word… I love what I do.

How did you get your start in global immigration? We'd love to hear your story in the comments.