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Looking over the wall may help ‘zors spread American dream


Mark Siebert

Illustration by Jonathan Hankin

There is perhaps nothing more timely than the topic of immigration. Each evening on the news, we hear about people fighting to get into our great country—aptly named “the land of opportunity.”

Despite the images we see, those looking to come to America are not limited to the downtrodden. There are literally thousands of foreign investors and business professionals looking to come to the U.S. and who often see franchising as a means to do it.

Let me start by saying that this column will not be for everyone. If your brand requires someone who is an owner-operator with a high level of English fluency, perhaps foreign investors are not for you. If you have a service-based business where the franchisee employs fewer people or operates a low-cost franchise, again, some of the programs that are designed to attract foreign investment may not apply.

For some franchisors however, looking over the wall may provide some creative marketing opportunities. Franchisor Le Macaron, for example, which specializes in French pastry, provides just one example of a brand that has successfully reached out to the country from which its products originate to build its brands.

Navigating the red tape

If marketing to international candidates makes sense for your brand, there are tools at your disposal to help give them incentives to come to the U.S.—a possible path to the coveted green card. You will need to know how to help lead those prospects through any governmental red tape and citizenry issues. As intimidating as that sounds, it doesn’t have to be.

There are two federal programs in place for precisely this type of prospect. The E-2 and EB-5 visa programs are designed to assist your franchise candidates into the land of opportunity.

The E-2 visa is for nationals from countries with which the U.S. maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation. There is no clear path to citizenship with this visa, but if the franchisee’s business thrives, the visa is renewable.

Angie Rupert, of Rupert Law Group, is an E-2 visa attorney out of Los Angeles. “The E-2 visa is the ‘happy visa,’” she says. “Candidates are likely to be approved in a short amount of time and it can lead to an EB-5 visa later down the road.” She says there are business savvy individuals who come here for business ownership opportunities in a wide range of industries.  

“I love this job because the industries are so varied. It’s tech, embroidery, food, service businesses, fertility clinics and app developers, just to name a few.” She notes that New Zealand was added last summer to the list of countries eligible for E-2 visa candidate application.

EB-5 visas have stricter requirements but are the ultimate route to a U.S. green card and opportunity to apply for citizenship. They require a $1 million USD investment in a commercial enterprise that provides 10 full-time jobs and there is a minimum two-year wait time, longer for some countries with backlogs. EB-5 visas also rely on extension by U.S. Congress and can be amended by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department.  

Another great wall

Of course, if you want to market to these candidates, you will need to employ different tactics. Your messaging may need to be changed not only from a language perspective, but also to focus on the underlying message of ease of business operation and obtaining a visa.  

You might think that bigger countries with substantial immigrant interest (like the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China), would make great targets, but in fact, none of those are E-2 treaty countries so if your franchise investment will not aggregate at an EB-5 level, marketing to certain regions may not yield results (and even the EB-5 program will be slow).

Moreover, many of the traditional marketing tools that you might use in the U.S. are different in markets abroad. Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, however there are still more people on social media there than the U.S. and Europe combined, on platforms such as Weibo, Wechat, QQ, Youku and Tudou.

Social media in China is extremely powerful from a marketing perspective, but it is also monitored by the Chinese government, so create messaging that does not offend the government, the people or the culture even as you are encouraging people to leave the country.

Even in markets where the social media channels are the same as the U.S., there are significant differences in terms of messaging. In India and some Middle Eastern markets where the social channels can be the same, there are substantial cultural differences to be sensitive toward. Be sure you understand your target audience.

Additionally, language translation should never be left to Google. Seek out true translators, or companies who assist with international marketing, such as ICJ-Global or Popify, to make sure your message is delivered correctly.

Targeting the dreamers

For those franchisors that qualify and understand the incentive programs available, candidates from abroad can be an interesting way to supplement their U.S. franchise networks. Doing so requires that you keep your marketing team up to speed with technical and cultural differences and that you understand that immigration and business laws are always changing.  

You would be well advised to obtain the advice from an attorney who specializes in immigration law, especially E-2 and EB-5 visas, if you will be targeting these candidates with any regularity.

The process may seem overwhelming, but international franchise marketing and sales can be a meaningful way to build your franchise network, create diversity within it and show the world the real meaning of the American dream.

Mark Siebert is CEO of franchise consulting firm iFranchise Group. Reach him at 708.957.2300 or info@ifranchisegroup.com. His new book is “Franchise Your Business: The Guide to Employing the Greatest Growth Strategy Ever.”

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