Immigration is a multifaceted subject that prompts emotion and opinion from almost everyone. Yet what we read and hear in the press is a mere drop in the ocean. We read about border security, illegal immigrants risking life and limb to discover what they hope will be a better life and immigrants who are being deported because they’ve overstayed their visa.
What we rarely hear of are the stories of people who've gone through the stringent, rigorous process to become legal immigrants.
One such person has set up a business in San Anselmo. Australian Kathryn Hood had a yearning to live in the United States. It had been a budding desire of which she took little notice for many years. She visited frequently, having a sister who is a U.S. citizen. She loved the Bay Area more than anywhere else she visited and it called to her until, one day, she decided to research her options to obtain a visa.
There’s a long list of possibilities. At first, a sibling visa showed some promise. She filled out forms and read various websites. She even became vaguely excited that living in the United States might be a real possibility and not so hard after all. Then she discovered the sibling visa is deemed the lowest on the priority level and can take up to 13 years to process. She perused the rest of the list. Marriage to her American boyfriend was out of the question. If she was going to make the move, she preferred to be autonomous and independent.
It’s far easier to become a citizen or legal immigrant in the United States if you happen to be an outstanding scientist, an elite athlete or an actor. Hood was none of these things.
She is, however, a business person. She had a successful structural integration manual therapy practice in Australia and previously ran a small marketing company. She began to explore the opportunity of obtaining a business visa. A sole trader who needs nothing more than a room, a wide massage table, sheets and pillows, she knew she had to throw caution to the wind and develop her dream business plan.
She concluded that an E-2 investment treaty visa was the only business visa available to her, so she called a handful of attorneys who offered varying levels of advice. The information she received didn’t always match up, but the underlying message was she’d be required to make a “substantial investment” and create job opportunities for Americans.
In May 2011, Hood made the decision to proceed with her attempt to obtain an E-2 visa. She’d considered the pros and cons and had heard the numerous warnings that this particular visa isn’t for the fainthearted. She’d heard that full commitment, an unwavering belief in her business plan and enduring faith would pull her through.
She placed her property in Australia on the rental market, sold or stored her possessions, obtained a temporary business visa (which let her conduct business meetings and establish elements of a business, but not to earn money), and finally flew to the United States with her dog. While organizing to leave her Australian life, she developed a business plan based on her vocation as a structural integrator (Rolfer) and her love and admiration of the human body. Her business plan grew and expanded until it fit her dream to help people find a healthy, joyful relationship with their bodies through a variety of manual and physical therapies.
Once in the United States, she began searching for the ideal space to operate. After several months and much angst, she eventually found her location in San Anselmo and she and her boyfriend set about transforming an ordinary space into a place of spectacular beauty and tranquility.
By the time her attorney was ready to file for the visa, more than six months had already elapsed and she had to obtain an extension on her temporary visa. The space was decorated, Pilates equipment was in place, treatment rooms were at the ready, and a substantial investment had been made. Unbeknownst to Hood, however, there were more stressful months to wait. The attorney, backlogged with cases, took almost two months to file and then her case was in the lap of an unknown immigration officer. The immigration officer originally returned the paperwork with a request for further evidence. Having paid for premium processing, this request appeared to be a stalling tactic. The information requested was already in the pile of documents, but the attorney had to resubmit it in a slightly different order. Of course, this additional service from the attorney came at a price.
It was a nail biting time. The business stood complete but empty for several months. Rent was being paid; money was drifting out while none was being collected in.
Finally, in early July, Hood received news that her visa had been granted for a period of two years. She was overwhelmed with relief and the promise of fulfilling her dream could begin.
Hood’s is a success story in terms of obtaining her visa and, her business, The Centre for Structural Re-Integration, is developing well. The immigration process, however, doesn’t end there. After the arduous nature of her original application, she’ll have to renew the visa in 2014. And then again two years later, each time providing new information, documentation and proof that she’s committed to employing Americans and investing money into the U.S. economy. Each time paying an attorney to help win her case.
It’s obvious the government needs a rigorous system in place to sift the wheat from the chaff. Immigrants interested in a business visa do need to prove they’re wholly committed. But there’s little in this particular visa that actively encourages business people to invest in the United States. For people so drawn to invest and conduct business here, would this not be an opportune time to review, refine and redress the process?
Connie Rodgers, is president/CEO of San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce. She’s run the San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce for 24+ years, is on several boards and commissions including Marin Economic Forum and San Anselmo Community Foundation Boards, San Anselmo Economic Commission and Marin Council of Chambers. She's been married to Paul Rodgers for 30+ years, has two outstanding grown daughters and two beautiful granddaughters, Ashley and Brittany. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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