Business

Nightmare come true: Family forced to leave U.S.

Steve and Sue Taylor took a chance in 2005. They bought the Bradenton coffee and pottery business, Espresso Yourself, sold off their lives in Birmingham, England, and immigrated with their family under an E2 visa, or an investor visa. The jaunt was part of a dream to come to the United States for the couple and for their children, Hannah, 16, and James, 12. But in September, the Taylor's were denied renewal of their visas. They now have until Dec. 28 to leave the country. "We were treated like second-class citizens," said Sue Taylor, or the "pottery lady" to some. "You have to stop and say, ‘Hang on, I'm investing in this country.’ ” Their story is like many fellow Brits, who have come here by the thousands, where their money goes further. The lion's share of these immigrants come to Florida to invest in businesses, buy homes and employ workers, said immigration attorney Tony Olson. But a "systematic problem" that has plagued the U.S. Embassy in London for years prevents these immigrants from staying, he said. "They go into it with a bias in favor of denying it (renewal)," Olson said. "They basically hide the ball and always come up with some kind of arbitrary requirement that then people can't meet and so they deny them." The requirements to stay, such as how much profit a business is making, have become a "moving goal post," Olson said. "Communities, local government and business leaders are making so many efforts to attract outside investment," he said, "And then we have these self-important, know-it-alls at the consulate basically rigging the system to kind of vindicate their own view of how the immigration system should work. They assume everyone is cheating the system and just retiring here or using it as a vehicle to live in the U.S. long-term." The U.S. Department of State would not comment on a specific visa case. Bureau of Consular Affairs spokesman Cy Ferenchak said requirements for this type of visa set by the department are among the most stringent that consulate offices abroad must follow. After a decision has been made, there is the option of reapplying but not appealing, he said. For the Taylors, they simply want to know why. They said their five-year business plan was not enough for officials nor was their profit, though they thought it was enough for them. "They said you've got two years to go for it, so we did," Sue Taylor said. "You aim for something and just as you get there, they move the goal post." The couple bought the business while it was in the red, and it has grown with the help of Steve Taylor's lawn maintenance work on the side, they say. "We've only begun to scratch the surface of this business," Steve Taylor said. "All we were asking for is a fair shake." With less than two months before the Taylors depart, friends and customers have rallied behind them. Friends Debbie and Gary Grant plan to manage the business while the Taylors return to England, sorting out a way to return. "Nobody should have to throw their life down the toilet in 90 days," Gary Grant said. Customer and friend Sherri Pearson has set up a link on their business' Web site, www.espressoyourself.com, asking the community to write support letters to takesend to U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. "We have all these illegal immigration issues and here we have a nice family that's a legal family and they're being sent back?" Pearson said. "I can't wrap my mind around it because it just doesn't make sense."

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