We take a closer look at the stories behind immigrant women entrepreneurs and what immigration reform could mean for them and America’s future.
As politicians work on hammering out an immigration reform bill that could increase the number of visas granted, incentivize skilled immigration, and create a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented living here, they are addressing the idea once again of America as a “nation of immigrants.”
At The Story Exchange we wanted to know more about one group that could be impacted by new legislation – immigrant women, some of whom are undocumented, who have started their own businesses in the U.S.
We know there are over one million women business owners in the U.S. who immigrated from foreign countries (1,018,743 to be exact), according to data collected in 2007 and released in 2012 from the Economic Census’s Survey of Business Owners.
13% of all women-owned firms are held by women born outside the U.S.
This million plus figure tells us that 13% of all women-owned firms are held by women born outside the U.S.
“These numbers indicate that there is a quiet revolution of immigrant women’s business ownership that is organically growing, but is going relatively unnoticed in the culture at large,” says Susan C. Pearce, co-author of the book, Immigration and Women: Understanding the American Experience by New York University Press.
While immigrant women who work for themselves may typically conjur up images of nannies and housekeepers, the truth is their businesses are all across the board in areas such as the food industry, manufacturing, engineering, legal services, aerospace and high-tech.
This “quiet revolution” translates into income, jobs and tax revenues. “Anytime you have a business who is hiring other people they are actually increasing jobs for the economy and then those people are becoming consumers. It has a multiplier effect,” says Pearce, an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department and a research associate with the Center for Diversity and Inequality Research at East Carolina University.
Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, says immigrant women start businesses for many of the same reasons American-born women do. They are often juggling work and home responsibilities and are looking for opportunities that give them flexibility.
She believes immigration reform would benefit all Americans. “Immigration reform would unleash the enormous talent and potential we know exists in the immigrant community — especially in the undocumented community — by opening more opportunities to education and business support and allowing talent to flourish in the open,” Giovagnoli says.
So who are these women behind these statistics? What are the circumstances that drove them here? What are their lives like now and what kind of companies are they starting? Over the next few months, we’ll be bringing you stories of women entrepreneurs who have chosen to remake their lives and start a business here.
“Immigration reform would unleash the enormous talent and potential we know exists in the immigrant community” – Mary Giovagnoli
The first story we are bringing you is that of Alma Abdul-Hadi Jadallah, who came to the U.S. from the Middle East in 1989. After the 9/11 attacks she set up Kommon Denominator, a conflict management consulting firm in Virginia.
Her upbringing in the Middle East, her life as an immigrant and her education put Alma in a unique position, which led her to focus on the impact the attacks had on those working in the field of conflict resolution.
She helps people resolve conflicts both near and far from local school boards trying to ease tensions with parents to countries torn apart by war.
Watch her story: