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Who’s creating US jobs? Mexicans.

Fed up with violence in Mexico, entrepreneurs are moving north. That means the US is seeing the benefit from the businesses they start.

By Taylor BarnesCorrespondent / March 2, 2010

New start: Pierre Gama and his son Emilio at Village Gourmet in San Antonio. He spent $200,000 to start the business, which allowed him and his son to obtain US visas and leave Mexico.

Taylor Barnes

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San Antontio

For Pierre Gama, the fourth kidnapping was the final straw. Armed carjackers made him drive his car in circles until he gave them the numbers to his credit cards. With two small children and a wife – who was with him during one such secuestro express – the security entrepreneur wanted out of Mexico City.

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Mr. Gama proposed moving to Canada, but his wife said it was too cold there. So he opted for an escape route a growing number of his wealthiest countrymen are taking: He bought his family’s way into the United States by spending about $200,000 on a San Antonio restaurant and catering business.

It’s perfectly legal. Immigrants can bring in family on an EB-5 visa if they invest $500,000 to $1 million in a US business. Mexicans have a cheaper deal via E-1 and E-2 visas, thanks to a treaty with the US. Gama took a similar tack, buying Village Gourmet and transferring himself to the US as its new executive via an L-1 visa, designed for intercompany executive transfers.

“The misfortune for Mexico [is the] fortune for the United States,” says Irene Kegan, executive director of the Mexican Business Association in San Antonio.

As Mexico’s drug wars escalate, businessmen and families have become a natural target for traffickers looking to extortion to finance their operations, says Art Martinez de Vara, a San Antonio-based immigration lawyer. Some 17,000 people have been killed in drug violence since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006 and vowed to take on the drug traffickers.

In fiscal year 2008, the US issued E-1 and E-2 visas to 1901 Mexicans and their families, nearly three times the level of a decade before. (See chart at left.)

The natural target for Mexican immigrant investors? San Antonio.

“San Antonio just came out ... as probably one of the best cities to invest in,” says Alfredo Lozano, an immigration attorney who works in the same law firm as Mr. Martinez. It’s close to Mexico but considered less dangerous than cities like Brownsville and Laredo.

That’s what attracted Ricardo del Rio.

“Very Mexican, very friendly. Quiet. I call it ranch,” says the polite and precise insurance agent, who got E-2 visas for his family at the end of 2006.

He turned down a job in Miami – concerned his family wouldn’t feel at home with the diverse Latino communities there. Setting up shop in California would have cost him three times as much, he adds.

But Mr. del Rio might not be here much longer. His visa business plan called for hiring seven people over five years in his insurance business, and that’s yet to happen. He has two more years to make good on that proposal – and thinks he may hire a handful – or he won’t be able to renew his visa and he and his family will be forced to leave the US – an unsavory prospect. “I wanted to be out [of Mexico] before something really bad happened,” he says.

Jewelrymaker moves to San Antonio

Mexican immigrants are often represented as a drain on American jobs. These investors are creating new jobs with businesses they establish in the US. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter: @CSMecon or Facebook.

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