Immigrant Business Owners' Visa Renewals Increasingly Denied
WELLS, Me. — It was an unusual sign, even for a restaurant here along the Maine coast, where seasonal home-grown businesses are a way of life.
“Closed. Gone to try and get a new visa,” read the hand-scrawled message taped inside the window of Laura’s Kitchen, a cozy eatery that specialized in corned beef hash and omelets and where the tiny tables were still set with brightly colored napkins. “Hope to see you in the spring. Dean & Laura.”
The sign turned out to be overly optimistic. Dean and Laura Franks, a British couple who opened the restaurant in 2000, found that after nine years of running their business, they could not renew their visa, forcing them to shutter the restaurant and leave the country.
The Franks are among thousands of people who enter the United States each year on E-2 visas, which allow citizens from countries with which the United States has certain trade treaties to invest in businesses and work here. The visas generally are renewed every two years, but there is no limit on how many times they can be renewed. Still, they are not intended as a path to permanent residency or citizenship.
But now, immigration advocates say they are hearing more and more accounts of renewal applications being turned down. It has been an enigmatic process for the Franks, uprooting their lives even though they have paid all their taxes, own the restaurant and its adjacent rental house, and have no debts except a mortgage on their home in Arundel, about 35 miles away.
“This is the forgotten story of immigration,” said Angelo Paparelli, a prominent immigration lawyer in California. “The headlines deal with Arizona and border crossings, but these are real people too. This is what happens when you play by the rules.”