E2 Visas: Immigrant Entrepreneurs and the American Dream

We had a lot of interest in the past few weeks from our Blog readers as well as the Facebookpage (facebook.com/myimmigrationlawyer), about the future of Entrepreneurs in this country. There are many concerns that our current immigration system is driving talented people away.

I wanted to share this great article by Stuart Anderson about the American Dream.

Immigrant entrepreneurs capture the imagination and provide economic benefits to the United States. Nothing more symbolizes the American Dream than the “rags to riches” stories of immigrants who came to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs and started a successful business. Immigrants like Ovidiu Colea.

As a young man in Romania, Ovidiu Colea was arrested and sent to a prison camp. “What was my crime? I wanted liberty, I wanted freedom. I wanted to reach America. I endured five years of starvation, torture, beatings, long hours of labor in boiling hot and cold, freezing weather, sleeping on a dirty floor, long hours of physical labor, eating plant roots … I was not allowed to communicate with my family,” said Ovidiu.

The thawing of the cold war allowed him to receive a visa to the United States. “It was the best day of my life. When I came to America I was penniless but this country gave me great hope and opportunity.”
Ovidiu worked three jobs, saved his money and within four years, in 1982, he started his own business, which produced small replicas. By 1985, his company had landed a contract to make replicas, ironically enough, of the Statue of Liberty. Today, Ovidiu’s company Colbar Art employs 20 people in Queens, New York and stands as a symbol of the possibilities that America offers.

There are at least three types of immigrant entrepreneurs. First, is the refugee or family-sponsored immigrant who starts a business and sometimes gets by in the early stages with help from relatives working as employees. Taiwanese-born John Tu, president and CEO of Kingston Technology, must be one of America’s most successful family-sponsored immigrants. He sold his company for $1 billion and distributed a large portion of the sale to employees, some receiving $100,000 to $300,000 each. He later bought back the company, which employs about 4,000 people. Sergey Brin, the enormously successful co-founder of Google, came to America as a child through the refugee program.

A second type of immigrant entrepreneur is the international student turned H-1B professional/green card holder. A National Venture Capital Association study, which I co-authored with Michaela Platzer, found that 25 percent of the venture-backed companies that became publicly traded since 1990 had at least one immigrant founder. Many of these companies were started by skilled, foreign-born professionals who started on temporary work visas, such as an H-1B.

A third way immigrant entrepreneurs make their mark on America is through the immigrant investor visa program. While underutilized in the past, renewed interest exists in the financial community and among lawmakers in the possibilities this visa category offers to create more jobs and companies in the United States.

Starting a successful business is difficult. Achieving that success in a land you were not born in is even more challenging. The ability of many immigrants to overcome these challenges and achieve success as an entrepreneur remains an important part of the American Dream.