TSE Special Series: Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Karin Kamp at The Story Exchange By Karin Kamp at The Story Exchange

We take a closer look at the behind immigrant women entrepreneurs and what immigration reform could mean for them and America’s future.

See the latest coverage of our series on The Daily Beast.

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.

Watch our latest videos of immigrant women entrepreneurs in the slideshow below

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, an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department and a research associate with the Center for Diversity and Inequality Research at East Carolina University, who co-authored 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.

(Related: The Rise of the Immigrant Woman Entrepreneur )

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.

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.

Nada Kiblawi, NHK ConsultingNada Kiblawi_press page
Origin: Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon
Current location: Virginia, USA

Nada Kiblawi was born in a refugee camp, lived through one devastating war after another, and finally found a safe haven and economic independence as an entrepreneur in the U.S.
Watch Nada’s story

Alma Abdul-hadi Jadallah, Kommon DenominatorAlma Abdul-Hadi Jadallah, press page
Origin: Jordan
Current location: Virginia, USA

From hostile religious groups in Iraq to community boards, Alma Abdul-hadi Jadallah gets people to sit down face to face and resolve the conflicts tearing their communities apart.
Watch Alma’s story

Ana Perez, Kika Hair DesignAna Perez_play
Origin: Colombia
Current location: New York, USA

Despite styling hair for many years, Ana lacked the confidence to start her own salon. After founding Kika, her only fear now is not spending enough time with her loyal customers.
Watch Ana’s story

Sheela Murthy, Murthy Law FirmSheela_Immigration Press page
Origin: India
Current Location: Maryland, USA
Sheela’s harrowing experience getting her green card led her to start her own business specializing in immigration law and to launch the most popular law firm website in the world.
Watch Sheela’s story

Xiaoning Wang, ChinaSproutXiaoning Immigrant's page
Origin: China
Current Location: New York, USA
Born and raised in Beijing, Xiaoning is selling what she knows best – Chinese culture.
Watch Xiaoning’s story


Nina Vaca, Pinnacle Technical ResourcesNina Vaca of Pinnacle Technical Resources, in Dallas, TX. Image by Jason Kindig
Origin: Ecuador
Current Location: Texas, USA
Latina trailblazer Nina Vaca resurrected her IT company from the ashes and turned it into a major industry player.
Watch Nina’s story

If you're a woman business owner, share your startup story though our 1,000 Stories project and be featured on our site.

Karin Kamp at The Story ExchangeTSE Special Series: Immigrant Entrepreneurs