POINCIANA – What Chris Farrell can’t seem to understand is why nobody appears to be giving him credit for creating jobs in a tough economy.
“We are creating jobs for fellow Americans,” Farrell said.
Farrell operates a business in Poinciana called Signature Promotions. He’s part of a growing number of British business owners in Central Florida who are feeling left out of the political equation.
That’s because Farrell can’t get a green card, which would give him permanent resident status in the United States as an alien.
But like many other British business owners, Farrell is in the United States on an E2 Treaty Investor Visa, which lets foreign visitor enter this country to start a new business or buy an existing one that creates jobs. These visas, issued by the State Department, are typically used for two and five years.
The problem is that when the visa expires, the visa holder and their families may be asked to leave the U. S. and apply for a renewal in their home country. That can take months, and there are no guarantees the visa will get renewed.
Farrell is working with the E2 Reform movement, a group of British business owners, mainly in Osceola and Polk counties, who are trying to raise awareness of this issue, and are lobbying Congress to change the law to allow E2 visa holders to qualify for green cards.
“We have focused on getting a formal reform of the E2 visa system,” Farrell said. “We’ve worked quite hard on this reform.”
Last year, they got a champion for their cause in U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, a Bartow Republican, who filed legislation in Congress to let E2 visa holders apply for green cards. But Putnam left Congress after he ran for and won the office of Florida agricultural commissioner.
Farrell noted that Zoey Adams, who lives in Lakeland and has been spearheading this reform effort, worked closely with Putnam on the issue.
“She got very connected with Putnam, and he was the guy behind the bill, which is proposing this reform of the E2 visa,” Farrell said, adding that Adams recently started a Facebook page for the Reform of the E2 Treaty Investor Visa effort.
“All the time, we are trying to ramp up the strength behind the E2 reform effort,” Farrell said. “Last year, we had a meeting at the ChampionsGate Omni. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of people who turned up there. We had some attorneys from the Immigration Lawyers Association, and one of the things that they did was they asked E2 visa people to complete a questionnaire, and one of the questions was how many jobs have they created and what’s the level of their investment? Once they got those back, they were able to show how much investment the E2 visa people were putting into the economy.”
In addition to being on Facebook, the Reform movement is also hoping to build up awareness of the issue by tapping into one of the fastest growing industries in Central Florida, the vacation home industry. Those are fully furnished homes rented on a short term basis to people who want more space during their local vacation than a hotel or motel room provides. These homes often appeal to families looking for multiple bedrooms, a kitchen they can cook in, and a private pool.
This has been a fast-growing industry in the past decade, and has attracted plenty of British entrepreneurs who manage these homes. This is particularly true in the Four Corners area, where the counties of Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties meet. Close to Disney and the other theme parks, Four Corners has attracted a rising number of vacation homes – and British E2 visa holders.
Adams will make a presentation on Thursday morning before the industry’s trade group, the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, which meets at 9 a.m. at the Improv Comedy Club at Pointe Orlando on International Drive. Farrell noted that the association sponsored an economic impact study several years ago, which showed that the growth in the vacation home industry has provided a big boost to the economy in Northeast Polk County and Northwest Osceola County.
“The study was done several years ago by Webster University and the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association,” Farrell said. “The bulk of the property managers are Brits on E2 visas. It was shown that we have had a huge impact on Polk County sales taxes. It’s still very much a Brit industry. That’s just one example of the impact that the E2 visa holders have on the economy.”
The Reform movement also hopes to use the Facebook page as a way to sign up fans and demonstrate that Americans support changing the law to allow E2 visa holders to get permanent residence in this country.
“We’re trying to get as many people to sign the petition as we can,” Farrell said. “Unfortunately, there is very little appetite for immigration reform in Washington. Until the president brings it to the fore, nothing will happen.”
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