Northeast Florida Congressman John Rutherford, R-FL4, says people who have a special visa for creating business in the U.S. should also have a path to citizenship.
Rutherford recently introduced legislation to make sure that happens, and he said his inspiration is a Colombia native and Jacksonville business owner who has won multiple awards including “Exporter of the Year” by the U.S. Department of Commerce, but she isn’t guaranteed the right to stay here.
Helga Langthon categorizes her Jacksonville-based company’s products as “basically everything you see on CSI,” including evidence markers and fingerprint powders.
“We are one of the few companies that specializes (in) the international market of this,” Langthon said.
Her Southside company, Soho Network Solutions, sells police investigative tools to clients in more than 50 countries around the world, and she and her husband employ two people.
Not A Guaranteed Stay
She’s here on what’s called E-2 status, which has to be continually renewed and is never permanent.
“You have to be able to hire people (to get the status),” she said. “You have to be able to pay taxes, and it has to be a business that runs.”
Langthon was introduced to the crime scene business as a teen. Her dad distributed fingerprinting ink pads in Colombia, where she was born. She went to college in Texas on a student visa and continued working in the field. Ten years ago she started Soho Network Solutions with her husband, who also is not a citizen.
“The E-2 is a non-immigrant visa,” Jacksonville immigration attorney Giselle Carson said. “When they accept it they are also saying they don’t intend to immigrate to the U.S.”
People who start businesses in the U.S. with an E-2 Treaty Investor Visa have to come from one of 80 treaty countries. The status has to be renewed every two years. People from those countries also have to get an E-2 passport visa stamp, which can be issued for up to five years before renewal is required, Carson said.
Langthon and her family are in E-2 status and also have E-2 visas. There is no direct path for her to apply for a green card and ultimately citizenship. If she ever wants to retire, she’d have to return to Colombia.
“You can’t plan for the future,” Langthon said. “You know we always have to have a plan B.”
Rutherford said he wants to change that due to “basic fairness.”
“It seems like in a country where we’re trying to create business, grow our economy, give Americans jobs — we would want these investments to stay here,” he said.
He said E-2 status holders should have the same opportunity many other visa holders already have to apply for green cards.
“They don’t jump ahead of anybody. They don’t get special consideration,” Rutherford said. “It just gives them the right to apply.”
Under his bill, E-2 Visa holders would have to be in the country for at least a decade before applying.
The legislation would also help their foreign-born kids stay, said Ericka Curran, who directs the immigration clinic at Florida Coastal School of Law.
“When the kids are 21, right in the middle of college age, they (currently) have to either transition to some other type of visa in the U.S., which is a student visa, or travel and go back to their home country,” she said.
Rutherford’s bill extends the expiration age to 26, allowing them to finish college and apply for work permits.
Curran said she’s a strong supporter of the bill but would eventually like the wait time be reduced from 10 years to five.
Rep. Annie Kuster, D- NH2, is the cosponsor of Rutherford’s legislation.
Story updated at 4:45 p.m. to clarify how often Langthon must renew her status.