Changes in immigration laws have local business owners worried about the future
DOVER -- Every couple of years, Kitzhof Inn owners Simon Ferris and his wife are forced to return to Great Britain during their busiest season to renew their E2 Treaty Investor Visas.
"We have to find alternative employment," Ferris said. "And get the dogs and inn looked after. That's added to the $6,000 we have to pay (for travel expenses)."
Ferris and others just like him are constantly worried about whether or not their visas will be renewed. With the DREAM Act and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's new immigration policy in the works, Ferris is worried E2 visa holders are going to be left with no improvements to their situations.
The E2 Treaty Investor Visa is for immigrants looking to open a business in America. The rules and conditions allow the visa holders to employ only American citizens and their visas must be renewed every few years.
E2 Visa holders pay taxes in America, but have not yet been considered for permanent residency or a green card.
There are approximately 100,000 E2 businesses in the United States, employing about 750,000 American citizens, according to E2VisaReform.org.
This month, Ferris will be on his third trip to re-new the visa. His first time, he received a two year visa. Then he received another two year visa. And the last time, he had three years before he had to re-new his visa again.
"We were aware of the rules when we signed up," he said. "But things are changing in immigration laws."
Each time Ferris goes back through the process of applying for the visa, he has some doubt of whether he will be returning to the United States. His fate is in the hands of the immigration officer at the United Kingdom embassy.
He told the Reformer that if he didn't have to return to Great Britain every few years, he'd be able to spend that money on improving his inn and property.
"It's deeply stressful," said Ferris. "That guy at the embassy could say no. It puts us in a dangerous position."
Ferris worries that someday, if he's not approved, he'll have to sell the property for less than its worth due to the current state of the market and "watch (his) hard work go nowhere."
He believes that he is running a big risk if he makes a big investment in his property, such as adding on a deck. However, Ferris also believes that since he bought the property, it is in his best interest "to make it work."
Ferris wants Leahy to think about the E2 Visa holders as he works on revising immigration policy. He thinks it is a matter of fairness to these business owners, who have paid taxes and played by the rules since they've arrived.
According to Leahy.senate.gov, "Congress has for years wrestled with comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Sen. Leahy believes that immigration reforms that put American workers first are necessary. As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Leahy plays an important role in advancing legislation related to immigration reform."
Big Bears Lodge owners Caroline and Stephen Sawyers are also worried about their futures. Their establishment is located in Dover, right next to the Kitzhof Inn.
In the beginning, when they got their E2 visas six years ago, all the Sawyers had to do was go to an office in Texas for renewal.
"Now you have to go back to your country of origin," said Stephen Sawyers.
Ferris became interested in the E2 Visa program after his brother-in-law told him about it.
"It was the only viable visa at the time to allow us to do it," said Ferris.
He saw it as an opportunity to have his own business and live in the states.
After Sept. 11, the rules of this visa changed. Ferris' brother-in-law and sister are now citizens of this country, while Ferris and his wife are not.
Children of E2 Visa holders are also supposed to return to their home country once they are 21 years old. They can apply for a student visa, but Ferris said, "there is no guarantee," that they will be granted permission to return to America.
The Sawyers' daughter, who attends Johnson State, is in danger of being deported. When the DREAM Act was created, her parents looked at all the qualifications that their daughter had to meet to stay in the country.
"She qualified for everything but she's here legally, not illegally," said Stephen Sawyers. "She cannot have a tax ID, therefore she cannot work."
Their daughter has a professor who specializes in politics and had asked her write up a two-page write-up of what she'd like to see done in terms of immigration policy reform to give to Sen. Leahy to read.
She was supposed to meet with him this month, but his office called to tell her that he could not meet with her.
"We knew the situation when we originally got the visa," said Sawyers. "We were under the impression once she got to this age, she'd be in college and we'd flip her across to a student visa. The immigration attorney said she'd have to be a resident in the U.K. to get a student visa."
The Sawyers have been in contact with Zoe Adams, creator of the website E2Reform.org. Adams told them that her husband had changed their daughters' visa over to an F1 Visa.
"The day before yesterday, we found that out," said Sawyers. "We're hoping to put her on that visa so she can finish her college ... If she wants to stay (in America), she'll find a company to sponsor her (for citizenship)."
Sawyers told the Reformer that if they get denied at their next renewal appointment, which is scheduled for next year, they will most likely move to Canada.
"The annoying thing at the moment, since the Dream Act appeared, is that we now feel like we're being treated worse than an illegal immigrant," said Sawyers. "They move the goal posts all the time. I didn't know that'd be the case when we first invested."
Adams has told Sawyers that she has been in contact with various members of the senate. Sawyers said Adams doesn't know exactly what will happen yet, but there may be some "changes soon for the good."
"It worries me that Sen. Leahy is chairing a bill that's going through to Washington now, but hasn't given positive review to E2 or suggested changing (policy)," said Ferris.
Ferris feels that the laws are outdated and immigration reform hasn't considered cases like his own.
"We're making money here, not anywhere else, he said. "It's got to the stage where it's one-sided now."
For now, Ferris can't see himself making a plan for the future, in say, a 10 or 15 or 20 year span.
"(E2) visa holders are limited in scope," he said. "You could be throwing your money down the drain."
Ferris has written several letters to Leahy in hopes of gaining some exposure for the E2 Visa holders and their dilemma.
"Any American I've talked to can't believe this goes on. America is made of immigrants," said Ferris. ""They've always supported positive immigration. E2 people are contributing (to this country), not taking away."
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