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Undocumented Immigrants and Business Ownership

While some immigrants come to the United States to escape dangerous conditions in their countries, a great number of immigrants also come to the United States to seek economic opportunities through better jobs and sometimes owning their own businesses. Undocumented immigrants who want to start their own businesses may find the process straightforward, although it does not ultimately change their immigration status.

An undocumented immigrant starting a business is not something that is technically sanctioned by the law, and in some ways successfully opening the business as an immigrant is a matter of using certain loopholes in the law. Immigrants who want to open a business in the United States are required to obtain an EB-5 visa, which allows the immigrant to apply for a green card in exchange for investing anywhere from half a million to a million or more dollars in a business in the United States. Not many people can afford this type of visa, and therefore undocumented immigrants opt to go through other avenues.

The first and most obvious challenge to starting a business as an undocumented immigrant is the lack of a social security number. However, most undocumented immigrants overcome this by applying for an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). In order to apply for a ITIN, a person has to submit some identifying documentation, such as birth certificate or a foreign passport.

ITINs are issued regardless of a person’s immigration status for purposes of filing taxes. This number cannot give a person work authorization in the United States in the same manner as a social security number. Once a person has an ITIN, he can apply for an employer identification number and set up a business.

With these numbers, an undocumented immigrant can apply for city and state licenses to ensure that the business is in compliance with local laws. However, even business owners who have otherwise followed the law on opening the business and paid all required taxes can be deported as easily as non-business owners who are in the country illegally.

An undocumented immigrant who chooses to open a business takes a chance that he or she can be deported at any time. For example, if the business is robbed, or an employee is attacked and the police are called in, the business owner takes the chance that his or her immigration status will come up, resulting in deportation. Business owners must also make sure that they pay all required taxes on the business income in order to avoid legal issues related to the nonpayment of taxes.

Financial challenges may also affect an undocumented immigrant’s ability to open a business. Because of his or her status, the person may not be able to qualify for a business loan or government grant, and has to rely on savings alone. This may mean that it could take a long time to raise the money it would take to launch a business, and therefore, it means deferring the dream of business ownership.

Let Us Help You with Your Immigration Problem

If you are in the country illegally, own a business, and are facing deportation, you need to consult with an experienced immigration attorney. Business ownership does not have to act against you in a deportation proceeding. Contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to experienced immigration attorney Nathan Wei from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California for a consultation.


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