Early in lawyer Ron Klasko’s career, he traveled to Hawaii for a conference, staying at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa. But he insists he didn’t become an immigration lawyer just for the chance to lounge in the sun.
In fact, it appeared no one at that conference did. Upon spending the week there, Klasko realized that none of his fellow lawyers were interested in living it up; they really just wanted to talk immigration law with each other.
“Little did I know when I got out there, that these immigration lawyers were really serious about what they do — morning, afternoon and night, even on a beach in Hawaii,” Klasko said. “And that’s when I got sold on immigration [law] because I saw these people who are so committed and so much loved what they did and so much cared about their clients.”
After four decades as an immigration lawyer — including being the founder and managing partner at Klasko Immigration Law Partners, LLP — Klasko, according to HIAS Pennsylvania, has earned some time in the sun and the spotlight.
Klasko was honored on May 24 at HIAS PA’s Golden Door Awards gala for his work in immigration law, as well as the scholarship program he created for HIAS PA clients, providing financial help to young people to pay for their college education.
In addition to serving as president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, where he was appointed general counsel, Klasko was also the immigration policy adviser for HIAS PA and was involved in domestic affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council. He was part of the committee on the deportation and denaturalization of Nazi war criminals at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
But Klasko earned his bread and butter at Klasko Immigration Law Partners, where, in addition to serving individual clients, he helps get visas for workers at hospitals and other companies and for international university students.
“We’re known around the country for being the place to go, if all else fails,” Klasko said.
When Klasko was beginning his career as an immigration lawyer in the 1970s, the concern was mostly around Iranian immigrants, many of whom were students, who left their home country during the Iranian Revolution, in which Iran instated an Islamic republic following the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
During that time, there was also a massive redesign of the American car line to make the American auto industry competitive with its Japanese and European competition. The undertaking demanded thousands of car engineers, creating a labor shortage. Despite that, it was near impossible to get visas for workers abroad to come to America for jobs in the industry.
“I came up with the novel idea … where we identified an automotive designer in England who was able to provide about 1,000 automotive design engineers to the U.S.,” Klasko said.
Klasko made it happen with the then-novel E2 treaty investor visa.
Despite the case gaining national attention, and despite Klasko’s requisite training taking supplemental night classes at Temple University and joining the bar association, he considered himself a neophyte, giving him a sense of honesty and vulnerability when speaking with clients that Klasko believed other lawyers lacked.
“People felt from the beginning that I was honest and tried real hard,” Klasko said. “And if the word gets around that there’s actually an honest immigration lawyer who’s really going to work hard for you, you develop a lot of business.”
Klasko was born into a “fairly religious” Conservative Jewish home in Havertown, where his father was a shamash at their synagogue.
His family, like many other Jewish families, considered education to be critical. Klasko paved his path to becoming a lawyer with a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s from Lehigh University.
In his older age (he declined to state his age, though he feels he’s getting younger every year), Klasko wanted to give others the same opportunities he had but that many could not afford.
“When I reached a point in my career, where it was time to give back … the first thing that came on my mind, to an area where I think I can give back, is helping kids who might otherwise not be able to reach their educational goals, to reach them,” Klasko said.
Though the scholarship is in its third year, with three students winning the scholarship each year, this year was the first time Klasko was able to meet the recipients, due to COVID restrictions. Students from Ukraine, China and Uganda, among others, who won the scholarship, greeted Klasko at the HIAS PA gala, telling him they would not have otherwise been able to go to college.
“That’s the payback for the scholarship programs,” Klasko said. “It’s not financial payback, but it’s emotional payback.”