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Mexico's Expateurs

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United States immigration policy may not be very keen on welcoming Mexico's huddled masses, but it has few qualms with Mexican entrepreneurs. E- and L-series visas offer a relatively quick path to legal immigration for Mexicans--provided they are willing to front the cash to open their own businesses. Capital investments of several hundred thousand dollars, and possibly requirements to hire a given number of workers, are usually sufficient to procure a visa.

This path to residence has proven increasingly popular as Mexico's business community has become mired in the country's escalating drug violence. Kidnapping for ransom has spiked over the last decade and targeting the wealthy has been supplanted by another strategy: targeting those with known relatives in the US. Hence, the exodus north is now considered more of a one-time move for families.

Exacerbating the trend is President Felipe Calderón's war on drugs, which has notched large seizures and disrupted transit routes. Faced with lower revenues, Mexico's drug gangs are diversifying their activities--extorting money from business owners is helping to fill the void.

From 1998-2008 the number of E-1 or E-2 visas awarded to Mexican entrepreneurs almost tripled. The State Department hasn't disclosed last year's figures for visas issued to Mexican investor-immigrants but the number likely passed the 2008 tally, and was perhaps more than 2,000 visas. (In 2008, a wealthy Mexican businessman had his son kidnapped and then killed, even after paying a significant ransom, adding to the sense of insecurity among the business class.)

San Antonio, Texas, is situating itself as the unofficial capital of Mexican expateurs in the States. It is far enough away from the border cities to buffer against the bleeding violence and creeping reach of the drug gangs, but in other respects it is, "Very Mexican, very friendly. Quiet," says Ricardo del Rio, an insurance agent who got an E-2 visas for himself and family in 2006.

In fact, the City of San Antonio runs an international affairs agency that seeks out Mexican entrepreneurs for relocation.

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Luckily for the expateurs--and the US economy--many Mexican business enterprises deftly negotiated the recession. Some are looking to expand. The headline of a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor: "Who's Creating U.S. Jobs? Mexicans." Sounds like they are the true San Antonio Spurs.

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Sean Goforth blogs at mexico.foreignpolicyblogs.com

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Mexico's Expateurs


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