Women in Law: an Interview with Debbie Klis

News Women in Law: an Interview with Debbie Klis Debbie A. Klis · January 6, 2022

You were recently named a Top 15 Corporate Attorney by EB5 Investors Magazine. Can you tell me a little bit about EB-5?  

EB-5 is an employment-based visa program that provides citizenship to foreign investors in U.S. businesses that create jobs.  Investors are given a temporary green card and can later obtain a permanent green card or even citizenship.  I work closely with Rimon Immigration Partner Sonia Oliveri to represent our clients in all aspects of the EB-5 process.  I handle all aspects of the business, securities, tax and corporate compliance under the EB-5 program to submit such documents to the Department of Homeland Security, while Sonia represents the investors’ immigration matters.  It is a great program, and I love working on it – it has created so much value for the investors and for the U.S.  

Congratulations on your award! What is “EB5 Investors”?  

“EB5 Investors” is one of the largest participants and thought leaders in the industry – they hold conferences around the world in this space. I have spoken at many of their conferences in China and around the U.S. on both EB-5 and venture capital and real estate investment in China and in the United States. It’s truly an honor to receive this award.  

How do you see the trend in EB-5 evolving?  

I have had years where it has been a very significant part of my practice. It ebbs and flows, largely based on what is going on with the government and how any given administration’s goals and incentives affect the attractiveness of the EB-5 Program for foreign investors.  Starting in 2016, there began to be a backlog of applications, called retrogression. The government offers a certain number of EB-5 visas each year, and furthermore, there are caps for each individual country.  We are hoping that the Biden administration will raise the number of overall visas offered, the per-country caps, or the way they are counted, but we don’t yet know how this will take shape.      

How does the current climate affect investors in China?  

The retrogression issue certainly affects Chinese investors, and many are aware of this problem.  Many Chinese investors understand that if they apply right now, their application will take a long time – potentially years – to process. Unfortunately, I think that makes it less attractive to them.  That said, I’m working on a significant EB-5 matter for a Chinese public company now with US operations. We’re raising about $50 million for a large residential project in Los Angeles.  One other advantage that I think many Chinese investors like is that, once they receive the EB-5 visas, their children can apply to university in the U.S. as U.S. students vs. foreign students.     

Do applicants tend to be concentrated in any particular industry?  

No, it really varies.  I see everything from investors from rural areas with established manufacturing operations looking to young entrepreneurs seeking to build urban commercial real estate portfolios.   

When you’re not working on EB-5, what other work do you focus on?  

I focus on helping investment managers with their securities law compliance with regard to fund formations, operations, and other issues.  I represent hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds – you name it. Lately, as has been well publicized, the big focus has been SPACs, and I’m working on multiple SPAC IPOs right now including several with sponsors based in China and SPACs who seek a business combination with strategic businesses throughout Asia, which have, thus far, been largely underrepresented on SPAC transactions.   

Now a little bit about you. What are your favorite things to do when you’re not working?  

My #1 is traveling with my family! I also love water sports, in particular scuba and snorkeling and I used to surf.  For day to day, my hobbies are reading, cooking and hiking. I love to be outdoors.   

What are some of your favorite places you’ve traveled?  

I loved Iceland, Costa Rica, China and Israel. I’ve been to 31 countries and enjoyed them all …. I cannot wait to start exploring again … I think Morocco is next …  

Where did you visit in China?  

I have traveled all over. I’ve been to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shenzhen many times for work but I also have traveled all around the country for pleasure.  My husband and I sailed the Yangtze River on our honeymoon in 2003 just before they raised the high-water level as part of the Three Gorges Dam project.  We were able to see many amazing temples that have now been submerged. My favorite place I have visited in China is Xi’an, which has one of the most impressive museums I have ever been to, and I have visited many museums around the world.  I recall being in awe of how advanced some of their technology was such a long time ago.  Also wonderful, of course, was seeing firsthand the Terracotta Warriors which are incredible, and we actually met one of the farmers who discovered the site!  The dumplings in Xi’an are spectacular! 

What is the most interesting thing you have ever done?  

That is a hard question for me! I have had a non-linear life path.  I am a securities lawyer that was a neuroscience major and am published in a brain science journal but earlier, when I was 20, I joined the police department in Salinas, California and then was recruited to a narcotics task force for deep undercover work which included posing as a student in a San Mateo County high school and performing drug raids at night in East Palo Alto, California.  

You weren’t scared?   

There were times when I was. Being undercover was much scarier than the raids, because you couldn’t carry a weapon. You start to get paranoid in deep cover – you’re living a double life, and you are always wondering if anyone might suspect you. At a certain point, I knew it was time to move on. I went to law school and was invited to work for the homicide team of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. But in the end, it wasn’t for me. Securities law is a better fit!

Read more about Debbie here.



Rimon has 45 offices across five continents. The firm is widely known as being at the vanguard of legal innovation. The firm has been repeatedly recognized by the Financial Times as one of North America’s most innovative law firms. The firm’s Managing Partners were both named ‘Legal Rebels’ by the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal and have spoken on innovations in the practice of law at Harvard and Stanford Law Schools. Rimon and its lawyers have also received numerous awards for excellence, including from Best Lawyers and Chambers.