Region's entrepreneurs with investment visas want reforms to address their status

Many who built businesses here hope citizenship path clears

David Albers/Staff 
- Nina Mold, owner of Top Performance Hair & Nails Salon, hands off a package to a shipping company in her North Naples business on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013.  Mold is a native of England and has operated the salon for nine years on an E-2 Treaty Investor visa. Many immigrants, like Mold, who have followed the law to obtain legitimate and costly visas are concerned that they will be left out of proposed immigration reform for undocumented workers.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - Nina Mold, owner of Top Performance Hair & Nails Salon, hands off a package to a shipping company in her North Naples business on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Mold is a native of England and has operated the salon for nine years on an E-2 Treaty Investor visa. Many immigrants, like Mold, who have followed the law to obtain legitimate and costly visas are concerned that they will be left out of proposed immigration reform for undocumented workers.

David Albers/Staff
Nina Mold, owner of Top Performance Hair & Nails Salon, rings up a customer in her North Naples business on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013.  Mold is a native of England and has operated the salon for nine years on an E-2 Treaty Investor visa. Many immigrants, like Mold, who have followed the law to obtain legitimate and costly visas are concerned that they will be left out of proposed immigration reform for undocumented workers.$RETURN$$RETURN$

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff Nina Mold, owner of Top Performance Hair & Nails Salon, rings up a customer in her North Naples business on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Mold is a native of England and has operated the salon for nine years on an E-2 Treaty Investor visa. Many immigrants, like Mold, who have followed the law to obtain legitimate and costly visas are concerned that they will be left out of proposed immigration reform for undocumented workers.$RETURN$$RETURN$

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— Stephanie Mold describes her legal status in the U.S. for nearly a decade with a series of letters and numbers.

First came the E-2, a non-immigrant visa her parents obtained when she was a teen to open a hair salon in North Naples.

Then it was the F-1 visa while she studied at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero, followed after graduation by Optional Practical Training, or OPT, which bought her time until she secured an H1-B visa to work at a local publishing company.

That alphabet soup and thousands of dollars in administrative fees have kept her in the U.S. legally, but on paper the 23-year-old and her immediate family aren’t immigrants despite nine years of paying taxes, running a business and living in Collier County.

They hope immigration reform trumpeted from Congress to the White House will carve out a space for families such as theirs who, despite investing in successful businesses, currently have no legal path to citizenship.

“I think people like us have earned the right to stay,” said her mother, Nina Mold, who opened the salon in 2004 and has since almost doubled the number of employees.

The investor visa that Mold family members used to shift their lives from England to Florida nine years ago requires them to renew their visa every two years. They have to travel back to the United Kingdom each time, go through the embassy there and prove the business is still viable.

The E-2 requirements are stringent. There is no retirement for Nina and her husband if they want to stay in the U.S.; without running the salon, their visas would immediately expire. Moreover, their children lose their legal status under the visa at 21 years old.

Stephanie Mold aged out two years ago. Her younger sister is a year away. The family scrambles to come up with stop-gap measures.

“These are people that create jobs, pay taxes, do everything right. The children turn 21, and it’s sayonara,” said immigration lawyer Norma Henning, who specializes in business visas for foreigners trying to invest in Collier County businesses.

The number of visas granted for investors, their spouses and children in 2012 was at a five-year high, with just under 40,000, up from about 28,500 in 2008, according to U.S. State Department figures.

When wide-eyed, entrepreneurial parents with young children come looking for the E-2, Henning and fellow immigration attorney Gudrun Maria Nickel said they warn them that with reforms still up in the air in Congress, the visa still has its limitations.

“The years happen to go by very quickly. I tell all my clients with young kids, think about this long-term,” Nickel said. “When the kids are young, 15 years seems like a lifetime away.”

The White House plan for immigration reform, announced in January, doesn’t specify that reforms will directly affect E-2 visa holders. It would create a “startup visa” for entrepreneurs “who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.”

A Senate reform proposal remains nebulous with regard to investor visas, and a House bill expected to be released earlier this month has yet to be unveiled.

“I don’t think E-2 investors will be singled out,” Nina Mold speculated on the reforms, which President Barack Obama and members of Congress writing legislation have said they want pushed through to a vote this year.

Nina Mold has become a champion of business visa reform, meeting with lawmakers and starting a website to increase awareness of the challenges for investors in her category — businesses that require a “substantial amount of capital,” according to regulations. Investor visas that require higher capital, such as the EB-5 with its minimum threshold of $500,000 in some cases, come with immigration benefits.

“I think what will happen is, there’s going to be a provision for people who are legally in the country for X amount of years, call it 10. So that would catch us next year,” Nina Mold explained.

Henning believes change will come for families such as the Molds when immigration reform passes. Whether investors get permanent residency could be determined by factors such as the size of the investment, years in the country and the number of jobs created, she explained.

In the meantime, the Mold family might have a partial solution, although its outcome remains uncertain until this fall.

Nina Mold’s son married a U.S. citizen. As such, he can sponsor residency for his immediate family.

Applications for his mother, father, and youngest sister have been sent in, along with thousands of dollars in fees.

The family couldn’t afford Stephanie Mold’s as well but is banking on the year and a half she has left on her work visa. By then, they hope to have secured her a green card as well — all independent of the E-2 visa they’ve struggled to keep afloat for years.

“I’ll either get this green card through my parents when they get theirs, or I’ll throw in the towel,” Stephanie Mold said, “because I’m exhausted.”

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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