As the debate rages over immigration reform, the owners of a Florida pool service firm are trying to ensure that immigrant business owners aren’t left out of the conversation.
Ten years ago, Steve Adams, Zoe Adams and their two children came to the United States from England and bought Richard’s Pool Service in Lakeland, Fla.
Today, the couple is among tens of thousands of legal immigrants doing business in the USA with E-2 Treaty Investor Visas. This visa category allows foreigners from certain countries to live in America on the condition that they’re making substantial investments, such as establishing a new business venture or purchasing an existing one; however, it’s not a pathway to citizenship.
While there is no limit to the number of times an E-2 visa can be renewed, there is also no guarantee that it will be renewed. That has many E-2 visa holders, who are considered nonimmigrants and therefore cannot apply for a green card, questioning their futures in the United States. Those with children are even more nervous. Once they turn 21, the kids are no longer considered dependents and face the possibility of being deported to their countries of origin.
Steve and Zoe’s daughter, Melissa, is 22 and married, which gives her legal residency. But the couple’s son, Tom, is approaching 21 and the family is scrambling to change the law of the land.
The husband and wife banded with two other families in the same position and started E2VisaReform.org, a website that gathers signatures for petitions, tracks bills and chronicles the Adams’ efforts in Washington, D.C.
They believe they’re making progress.
“We had always thought, ‘Well, we’re not American citizens, so nobody in the government is going to listen to us.’ But we realized they would,” Zoe said.
Zoe routinely sends newsletters to some 700-plus subscribers, writes politicians and makes annual trips to Washington to drum up support. They’ve been successful in getting several bills introduced.
She’s also advocating that the Dream Act will be revised to include children of parents who came to America legally. As it is, the proposition grants conditional residency to children of undocumented immigrants only.
“We have asked Sen. [Marco] Rubio’s office to include our legal children within this and we have had a response more or less telling us they will be asking for an amendment to do that,” Zoe said in a recent blog post.
That would secure Tom’s future. He’s currently pursuing a Masters at the University of Florida on a student visa, but without official citizenship the family is paying costly out-of-state tuition.
Zoe knows of at least a dozen other pool industry members who are facing similar obstacles.
Trevor Cook and his family came from Essex, England, in 2010 and today he is the owner of Southern Pool and Spa in Merritt Island, Fla. Cook renewed his E-2 visa within the first two years of living here. It was a complicated and expensive process that included a trip to the U.S. Embassy in London, an immigration lawyer, and loads of paperwork. It will have to be renewed indefinitely every five years, and there’s always the risk a visa official will turn down his application. He must also return to his homeland every two years to renew his re-entry permit.
Cook, who is 70, would like to invest in his business, and hire more employees, but he doesn’t qualify for a small business loan because he doesn’t have a green card.
“Being here on an E-2 visa is very difficult and very worrying because you can’t really plan or foresee the future,” Cook said.
Fellow Englishman Roger McDonnell shares his frustration. The president of Resort Pool Services and Swim Lifts in Clermont, Fla., currently is in the U.K. getting his E-2 renewed. Factoring in the cost of travel and applications fees, he estimates the 10 minute interview with the “man behind the glass” will average out to $570 per minute.
“Are there no embassies in the USA?” McDonnell asks.
Their dilemma goes deeper than the inconvenience of international travel and burdensome applications. Cook said it’s frustrating that he and his family are considered “temporary visitors” even though they live here legally, own homes and pay taxes. He said it would have been easier to come to the United States on work visas, but that would go against their deeply rooted entrepreneurial instincts.
“They say England is a nation of shopkeepers,” Cook said. “We don’t want to work for other people.”
E2VisaReform.org estimates there are about 100,000 E-2 businesses, employing more than 1 million U.S. citizens, and generating about $90 billion in taxable revenue.
The latest version of the Senate’s immigration reform bill includes a provision allowing E-2 visa holders who have been doing business in the country for at least 10 years to apply for a green card.