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Downtown St. Pete’s Moon Under Water owners push legal immigration reform

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A petition supporting U.S. Rep. David Jolly’s E2 Treaty Investor Visa reform bill is well on its way to reaching the 2,500 signatures needed to send on up the Hill.

House Resolution 1834 was introduced by Jolly in April in order to provide a path to permanent residency for foreign small business owners who currently have to jump through bureaucratic hurdles to remain in the country running their businesses legally.

Now the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce is asking its members to help get the final 500 signatures needed on the Change.org petition. In its “Brightspots” highlight in the chamber newsletter, the Chamber highlights Alan and Suzanne Lucas, owners of the downtown St. Pete British-inspired tavern, Moon Under Water.

The couple has been here 24 years and still have been unable to obtain permanent status.

“These St. Pete Chamber members are seeking the help of fellow members and loyal customers to share this link with friends and sign the petition to strengthen their cause,” the post reads.

Under the current E2 Visa program business owners have to frequently reapply to stay in the United States. Often those individuals who own and operate successful businesses and employ Americans have to reapply every two years and in many cases are forced to leave the country while they do so.

The process costs thousands and thousands of dollars and hinders some business decisions for owners who remain unsure of their future in the United States.

“Of course this isn’t just an Immigration issue – it is also an economic one,” the petition reads. “We are investing money in the US and giving employment to US citizens. How much investment is the US missing out on by not making our futures secure?”

Current law also requires children of E2 Visa holders to either apply for their own permit at age 21 or leave the country.

Under Jolly’s reform bill children would be able to remain on their parents Visas until age 26 and apply for a work visa at 18.

But the bigger part of the bill would allow people who have opened a business in the United States and employ at least two workers to apply for permanent status once they’ve been in the country for 10 years.

“We see everyday the debate over immigration reform and it’s focused on only those who are here without documentation; only those who have come here illegally,” Jolly said during a press conference in April where Creative Loafing reported on his announcement. “And while we must address that reform as well, and I believe we do, I think we have to reform, we can’t possibly begin to reform the immigration system that involves only those who are here without documentation without recognizing that our legal immigration system has failed, and has failed each and every one of you.”

The issue has been a priority for Jolly, who has been in contact with several Pinellas businesses who face closing shop every time they have to reapply for their E2.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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