Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Profile / Tahmina Watson: KCBA’s New President: Tireless Advocate and Superhero

Profile / Tahmina Watson: KCBA’s New President: Tireless Advocate and Superhero

July 2022 Bar Bulletin

By Jaime Hawk 

I am so proud of my dear friend for assuming the King County Bar Association presidency. Fifteen years ago, we served together on the board of the King County Washington Women Lawyers; she eventually served as its president. Time and time again I’ve watched her step up to difficult challenges and address them head-on. She moves quickly to bring people together to solve problems. She is a talented force of nature and will be an excellent leader for KCBA.

Growing up in London, Tahmina always wanted to be a lawyer. Her mother recounts stories of her as a child pretending to be an attorney because she wanted so badly to help other people. Some of Tahmina’s fondest memories are of her following her lawyer father around the cobble-stoned grounds of London’s Middle and Inner Temple, in awe of the important work taking place behind the walls.

When she was eight, her father took the family back to Bangladesh, where her parents had been born. They stayed for 10 years, allowing Tahmina to learn her culture and the language and get to know extended family members. Her mother helped women in rural Bangladesh who had been abused by their husbands and families. Watching her mother empower women was Tahmina’s first glimpse into the kind of advocacy work that can help people push back against adversity.

The family moved back to London when Tahmina was 18. She later completed her undergraduate law degree at Brunel University and Bar Vocational Course (BVC) at the Inns of Court School of Law in London. To secure pupillage, a twelve-month apprenticeship that barristers must complete, Tahmina started to undertake pro bono work to seek experience.

She took a volunteer intern position with the Disability Rights Center, an organization providing legal representation to those facing discrimination. In her first court appearance, she represented a child seeking additional educational support from his school. 

That experience would be a springboard for other areas of legal advocacy work. She trained with the Independent Panel for Special Educational Needs to help parents fighting for extra educational support for their special-needs children. Interested in helping women, she volunteered with Rights of Women, a legal organization that was similar to our local Legal Voice, and led a law school student group that organized events for law students to learn about opportunities for internships in and out of the UK. She was able eventually to secure pupillage and complete her bar training to become fully certified. 

On a trip to the U.S. in 2002 in Seattle, Tahmina met the man who would become her husband and three years later married him and joined him in the U.S. They have two daughters.

Tahmina took the New York bar in 2006 and eventually entered the practice of immigration law. A few years later, she was admitted into the Washington State bar as well.

In 2009, she launched Watson Immigration Law. She would often describe how she was reticent to start her own firm, as she wasn’t sure she was ready to run her own law firm or be a solo practitioner. But she found she could share all her knowledge, passion and skills with clients from a range of different demographic and cultural backgrounds.

Tahmina’s firm specializes in business immigration law, with a focus on supporting startups, entrepreneurs, investors, employee transfers and business expansions to the United States. This involves helping clients with strategic guidance on the best visa options, with short- and long-term goals.

During the 2009 recession, as she was getting off the ground, many of her clients found themselves in limbo. They were among the 2.6 million people who lost jobs as the economy struggled. Clients who were here on employment visas but were unable to find work would have to return to their home countries or risk becoming undocumented in the U.S. 

She realized the U.S. was missing a key tool in its immigration toolkit — an avenue for bright, young minds with innovative ideas to contribute to the U.S. economy by establishing businesses and jobs. Many countries were beginning to create startup visas to attract foreign entrepreneurs into their countries, and Tahmina began aggressively advocating for such a visa in the U.S. 

The opportunity for such a visa became an engine driving her fierce advocacy through media appearances, articles, social media, and blogs. In 2015 she compiled all her blogs into a book called The Startup Visa. She also launched a podcast, Tahmina Talks Immigration, in which she explored immigration issues with experts. It continues today. In 2022, after publishing a second edition of the Startup Visa book, it became the catalyst for another podcast.

During the years of the Trump Administration, Tahmina led the Response Committee of the Washington State chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and co-founded Airport Lawyer, a web portal that was critical in helping distressed passengers connect with volunteer lawyers. That work also helped her envision a new way to help detained immigrants get legal help through a non-profit she helped found called Washington Immigration Defense Network, or WIDEN. She also helped create the country’s first legal clinics where immigration lawyers are paid a stipend for their time. 

Michele Carney, Partner at Carney and Marchi Law states, “Throughout the years, I have watched Tahmina develop and lead the Rapid Response Committee through our local American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Washington state chapter. She not only developed ideas for assistance to critical needs but put in hours of planning to implement programs in conjunction with other agencies.” 

Last year when the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving thousands who had worked alongside U.S troops stranded and in peril, Tahmina’s advocacy again kicked into gear. In collaboration with several organizations, she very quickly helped train about 1500 lawyers nationwide to assist in the crisis. Locally, she worked with CAIRWA to create a legal clinic to help at-risk Afghan nationals with their U.S. immigration applications. And following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she wrote columns about the plight of people in that country and about how the U.S. can and should use it immigration laws to help. 

Amanda Dubois, a partner at Dubois Cary Law said Tahmina is able to “synthesize complex legal issues involving immigration into ordinary language. 

“For Tahmina, educating people by writing books, producing podcasts, and making herself available for media is a calling. And we all, as a community, benefit from her wisdom and commitment to helping regular people understand the law.”

Since COVID, Tahmina has created a meditation program for children, and in addition to writing one book and updating the other, she became a serious bird photographer as a way of bringing calm and centering herself.

She is one of Business Insider’s top U.S. immigration attorneys as well as a Puget Sound Business Journal Women of Influence honoree.1 In addition to The Startup Visa,2 she authored a second book during the COVID pandemic, Legal Heroes in the Trump Era,3 about fellow attorneys who stepped up during the Trump years to defend vulnerable people. 

She writes a regular column for Above the Law4 and is a contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine. She has received AILA awards for her pro bono work. She’s become a go-to expert on immigration and is often sought out by the media to discuss immigration-related issues. 

“From the moment Tahmina Watson arrived in Seattle she has been a passionate and intelligent voice for our immigrant community,” said Joel Paget, a partner at Ryan, Swanson and Cleveland.

Alisa Brodkowitz, CEO of Lightning Law and former President of King County Washington Women Lawyers who served with Tahmina, says “Tahmina is a coalition builder who elevates and lifts those around her and in this way becomes a glue that binds together many powerful changemakers, both locally and nationally.”

Retired Judge and JAMS mediator Deborah Fleck fondly states, “I am impressed with her passion for justice and her “can-do” creative spirit. For the past decade she has been interviewed, quoted, and recognized for her outstanding legal work in immigration, training volunteer lawyers, and for her podcast and book on the startup visa. I look forward to her leadership of KCBA.”

Michele Carney describes a friend passionately committed to her work, “one of those rare individuals who possesses kindness, compassion and intellectual curiosity to forge creative ideas in order to solve difficult issues.” She calls Tahmina’s diversity of talent and interests unique: “KCBA will thrive under her leadership.”

We can all be confident that will be the case.  

1 https://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2020/11/13/woi-tahmina-watson.html

2 https://www.amazon.com/Startup-Visa-Economic-Prosperity-America/dp/B09FCSDL9S/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=tahmina+watson&qid=1633103365&sr=8-1&pldnSite=1

3 https://www.amazon.com/Legal-Heroes-Trump-Era-Inspired-ebook/dp/B08KC7MBFV/ref=sxts_b2b_sx_reorder_v3_customer?cv_ct_cx=tahmina+watson&dchild=1&keywords=tahmina+watson&pd_rd_i=B08KC7MBFV&pd_rd_r=e8f5cb64-f3e2-4ce6-a1a4-5f3b6d06aa04&pd_rd_w=R7psv&pd_rd_wg=mY9gj&pf_rd_p=957bd7e3-74ac-4a2b-82e1-84ce13da595b&pf_rd_r=ECFQ3449J8KD602VCS31&qid=1633103365&sr=1-1-722db4e4-77fc-4fb6-8cee-654ad16ce1d5&pldnSite=1

4 https://abovethelaw.com/author/twatson/

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