Immigrant Entrepreneurs Vital To Growth, Jobs

Feb 28, 2012

Immigrant entrepreneurs discuss their efforts to strengthen local economies and provide jobs at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber's Immigration Policy Center (IPC) of the American Immigration Council.
Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Immigrant entrepreneur Mei Xu remembers when she first landed at the Dallas airport after fleeing her home country of China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square uprisings.

There were two immigration lines, one for those holding a U.S. passport, and the other for “aliens.” “I had seen Star Trek, so I knew what aliens were,” Xu said during a U.S. Chamber panel discussion on the role of immigrant entrepreneurs. “I watched to see who got in the line and who these aliens were,” says the founder of the highly successful Chesapeake Bay Candles.

“Needless to say, it’s been a long 17-year journey from an alien to sitting next to President Obama during his Insourcing American Jobs Forum in January,” Xu said.

Today, Xu has grown her company from her Annapolis, Maryland, basement to three large manufacturing factories, and she recently relocated one of her factories from Vietnam to Glen Burnie, Maryland.

Speaking at a February 28 event hosted by the Chamber and the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) of the American Immigration Council, Xu and three other immigrant entrepreneurs discussed how they’re strengthening local economies and providing jobs through their businesses.

The stories of Xu, Cognizant CEO Francisco D’Souza, Saul Perlera of Perlera Real Estate in East Boston, Massachusetts, and Albert Yousif of A2Z Facility Maintenance in Troy, Michigan, were featured in a new joint report issued by the Chamber and IPC.  

“What we do contributes to American competitiveness. Ours is a good story and one to be replicated. If we do that, the U.S. will continue to be a great country,” said D’Souza. He, along with three co-workers at Dunn & Bradstreet, started Cognizant with $2 million in funding and support from D&B. Today, the publically-traded high-tech firm has a market capitalization of $20 billion. “I’d say that’s a good return on investment,” D’Souza said.

Yousif and Perlera bootstrapped their companies, saving money and learning from mentors until the right opportunities presented themselves. Yousif said he tells his 28 employees, many of whom are former refugees just like he was when he came to the U.S. from Iraq in 1993, “There are opportunities, but you have to educate yourself, improve your language skills, and work hard.”

The immigrant entrepreneur report authored by Marcia Drew Hohn, director of the Public Education Institute at The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. examines immigrant entrepreneurship in many different sectors, including neighborhood, growth, transnational, and science and technology firms, and demonstrates how these immigrant businesses create jobs for U.S. workers and contribute to America’s economic growth.

Current immigration laws, however, make it difficult for many immigrant entrepreneurs to contribute to the nation’s growth. The report recommends administrative and legislative proposals to create an atmosphere that fosters greater growth:

  • Create an entrepreneur-friendly culture. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should create more business-friendly policies, promote and streamline entrepreneurship programs, and launch further engagement opportunities to seek feedback in how to address the unique circumstances of entrepreneurs, new businesses, and startups.
  • Cut red tape. DHS should not demand excessive documentation or dismiss the achievements of well-qualified applicants who could start businesses or create jobs in the United States.
  • Create a visa category specifically targeted for immigrant entrepreneurs. Congress should create a visa category for those who invest small amounts or attract small but sufficient venture capital backing. Congress should likewise be urged to create access to permanent resident status for those who establish a business that produces jobs for U.S. workers.
  • Remove hurdles for foreign students with desirable skills. Immigration law should permit foreign students in graduate programs (especially science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to remain in the United States after graduation.
  • Recognize that immigrant entrepreneurship occurs across the spectrum of businesses. Immigration policy should address this phenomenon by establishing visa categories that provide opportunities for talented individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life.

Go here to read the full report.

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