The story of Anton Mertens, Of Counsel in the International Immigration & Global Mobility practice of Arnall Golden Gregory
Anton Mertens’ story is a remarkable one. He came to the United States as a 17-year old on a high school exchange during which he fell in love with the country. He returned the next year to attend college, and in 1994 became a US citizen. A past president of the Belgian-American Chamber of the South, Anton is passionate about immigration and has more than 30 years of experience assisting corporations and individuals around the world craft immigration solutions. For his efforts assisting Belgians and fostering the bond between Belgium and Georgia, he was awarded the prestigious Officer’s Cross of the Order of Leopold signed by King Philippe, King of the Belgians in 2017. Anton recently joined the International Immigration & Global Mobility practice of our member Arnall Golden Gregory. I took this opportunity to sit down and have a chat with this valued member of the Belgian-American business community.
Hi Anton. Thanks for taking the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with us. Could you explain to us what AGG does and what your function in the company is?
AGG is a law firm with offices in Atlanta and Washington DC with 180 attorneys assisting aspiring companies and individuals create, grow and protect business value. AGG is one of the 200 largest law firms in the world. We specialize in global commerce and international trade.
I am part of the International Immigration and Global Mobility practice. We represent clients from all over the world, including Belgium, Germany, the UK, Ireland, India, France, Mexico and Israel.
Our attorneys provide legal services in several languages, including French, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish. I am fluent in French, Dutch and English. I practice immigration law and assist companies and individuals with the visa application process. US law offers a wide range of possible visas, each one with different terms and conditions. For instance, the H-1B specialty occupation visa has a term of three years and can be extended to six years. Also, an E treaty visa allows you to enter the U.S. for two years at a time but can be extended an infinite number of times as long as you qualify. Yet another option is an employer-sponsored green card. I’m here to help companies and individuals navigate this process, help them make the best choices, and successfully file the applications. What was the impact of COVID on AGG and the immigration law practice? Despite COVID, AGG had a very good year. We managed to continue growing. We adapted quickly to working remotely and managed to remain vigilant to our clients’ needs. However, the immigration team continued to show up at the office every day. Another problem COVID caused is massive visa processing delays. For instance, the timing of processing an E visa used to be six to eight weeks in Brussels. Today the processing of the same visa can take up to nine months.
Among other problems caused by these governmental delays, visa extension deadlines are sometimes not met despite being filed on time. This complication can cause major financial losses to a company.
Are there things you would wish to see change in the immigration law business?
COVID has amplified how the visa immigration system is broken and is in great need of repair. We’re dealing with a system that’s not fit for the 21st century. Things move very slowly. The deficiencies in the system become all too clear every time an unforeseen event happens. COVID is one example that illuminated the need for change, but in the past, governmental shutdowns were also a huge problem for visa processing. When the government closes its doors, it triggers an enormous bottleneck for visa applications, and it can take several months for the administration to work through the backlog of pending applications.
We need a modernization of the process. After all, backlogged applications taking months to process are costly for the American economy as a whole. At the moment, our country is in an enormous labor shortage. A less costly and more streamlined immigration process could resolve this problem and help us remain competitive as a state and country.
You recently joined AGG, what made you choose this firm over others?
When Teri Simmons – the head of the International Immigration & Global Mobility practice – asked me to join, it seemed like a perfect fit. I have known her for over 30 years and we’ve worked together in our mutual volunteer roles on the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission. I have been impressed with AGG’s immigration work and Teri’s leadership.
What were the favorite moments of your career? I’m having difficulty picking just one. - First and foremost, it was a very special moment when I officially became an American citizen in 1994. It was a thrill to raise my right hand and swear allegiance to the United States. - Receiving the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Leopold by minister Pieter De Crem was a special moment. Despite living here for so l long, I have always held close ties to Belgium. To this day I have a good relationship with the Belgian consulate and am happy to assist them with immigration issues.
Pieter de Crem, secretary of state for foreign trade of Belgium, pins Mertens with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Leopold. (Courtesy of Phil Bolton, Global Atlanta)
- Joining AGG. I have a lot of respect for Teri Simmons’ immigration work and can always rely on her advice. I’m really looking forward to working together in the immigration and global mobility practice in the new year.
Thank you so much for your time Anton.
Arnall Golden Gregory 171 17th Street NW Suite 2100 Atlanta, GA 30363 Visit their website here.
Click here to connect with Anton on LinkedIn.