ORLANDO – British business owners who are running a successful company in Central Florida, which contributes to creating jobs and helping the local economy, never cease to feel frustrated, Lisa Khan said, that this country won’t make it easy for them to become permanent residents.
It’s frustrating, all right, Kahn said – but the situation isn’t likely to change until Congress changes it, she added.
“We’re still plugging away and still lobbying Congress,” she said. ”I think it’s really important to contact your member of Congress and the Senate about this.”
Khan is an immigration attorney with an office in Orlando, and a lot of her clients are British business owners who live and work in Central Florida, and are here on an E2 Visa. Although that visa enabled the British residents to come to the United States, with his family, it’s also left many of them in a legal limbo.
An E2 Treaty Investor Visa allows a foreign visitor to enter this country to establish a new business or buy an existing one that creates jobs. These visas are issued by the State Department and can be used for two and five years. When the visa expires, the visa holder and their families have to leave the U. S., then apply for a renewal in their home country — which usually means doing it through a personal interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate office abroad. There’s no guarantee the visa will get renewed at the interview.
This has become a constant struggle for British business owners in this region. The E2 Visa can’t be converted into a green card, which provides permanent residence.
Even more frustrating is that the children of foreign business owners here on E2 visas can stay while they’re under the age of 21. After that, they’re automatically returned to the country they were born in – even if they haven’t been back there in years.
Khan said while an E2 visa can sound like a dream ticket into the United States, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
“The business has to be able to generate more income than simply supporting the investor and their family,” she said. “If they’re living on savings or a spouse’s income, that’s what you need to be worried about through renewal.”
What frustrates so many British business owners, though, is that even if their business is successful, bringing in revenue – and therefore tax dollars into the local economy – and either employing local residents or creating jobs, it doesn’t help them get a green card. Khan said she understands that frustration.
“There is still no direct path from an E2 to a green card,” she said. “We’re trying to get Congress to pass legislation that would make it easier for someone on an E2 to get permanent residence,” she said.
But with immigration still a controversial political issue, she said, this measure remains stalled in Washington.
“Nothing has happened there,” she said. “Nothing has transpired on that yet.”
Last Thursday, Khan made a presentation to a group that plays an important role in Central Florida’s tourism and hospitality industry – vacation home property managers. She took part in a legal panel discussion during the monthly meeting of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, which met a WonderWorks on International Drive.
The association represents property managers who market and oversee vacation homes, or fully furnished houses rented on a short term basis to tourists.
Many of the property managers who operate vacation homes in Central Florida are British and living here on an E2 visa.
In 2010, local British business owners were carefully watching a bill in Congress aimed at making it easier for them to get green cards. Known as the E2 Adjustment bill and filed by U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, it would have allowed a certain number of E2 Visa holders to apply for and get green cards.
But the bill failed to pass that year, Putnam left Congress to run successfully for the office of Florida agriculture commissioner. It’s not clear yet who will take up sponsorship of the bill now.
Khan said while waiting for this legislation to be find a new champion, British business owners are advised to avoid doing something that could backfire: trying to visit one of the consulate offices on U.S. territory islands like Guam or the Virgin Islands to see if they can get their E2 visa renewed there, rather than traveling back to England.
“I think you’re going at your own risk,” Khan said. “Generally you’re supposed to get the visa renewal in the country of your own permanent residence, and you’re not supposed to go consulate-shopping and take a chance on the islands.”
Attorney Stephen Brown, who also took part in the panel discussion, said the good news for British business owners living in the United States is that if they have a will drafted and legally signed in the United Kingdom, they don’t need to get a new one drafted in the United States.
”There’’s no obligation they have a Florida will, because a UK will can be probated in Florida,” he said.
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