I attended a meeting this morning at the World Trade Center in Clayton. The meeting was part of the St. Louis Mosaic Project, a group dedicated to boosting the number of immigrants in St. Louis by 2020 in order to make St. Louis the fastest growing city in the U.S. when it comes to the number of new immigrants.
Betsy Cohen, who heads the Project, invited me and several other business immigration lawyers to the meeting to discuss how we can help students stay in the region after the completion of their studies and how we can help immigrant entrepreneurs. It was a lively discussion and a lot of good ideas were hatched.
What is the St. Louis Mosaic Project? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration attorney here in St. Louis Missouri. You know, the St. Louis Mosaic Project is a group that’s trying to boost immigration and the number of immigrants to the St. Louis area, to get people to locate here or relocate here in order to build businesses and create jobs. Their marching orders are to be the fastest growing immigrant community by 2020, and they’re working really hard to get that goal achieved. My main contact at the St. Louis Mosaic Project is Betsy Cohen, a very, very nice lady that I met at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce a few months ago. She’s working very, very hard with business leaders, religious leaders, community leaders to try to help the St. Louis bi-state region really boost immigration and the number of people working and settling here in the St. Louis area.
We had our meeting today of many of the top business immigration attorneys in town, and we sat and talked and went around the room to talk about ways that St. Louis can become more hospitable to immigrants. I think it’s a great sign that this activity is going forward. You know, just a couple of years ago, the Missouri Legislature and other state legislatures were all trying to outdo each other in being as hostile to immigrants as possible. We had the laws that got passed in Arizona and Alabama that were very draconian, very anti-immigrant, and now we see political leaders understanding the importance of immigration and trying to do everything they can to boost the number of immigrants and to make their cities as accepting as possible.
We’ve heard stories out of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, other areas in the country that are really trying to do what St. Louis is doing, that is make the area in which they live an area hospitable to immigrants. We talked about two main issues today. How do we go about doing that? The first issue was students and how to keep students in the St. Louis area, and we talked about the major universities in the area and how so many times, we have these excellent students coming from overseas who leave to go back home to their home country or to another country that’s deemed more hospitable to entrepreneurship and innovation. We talked about ways that we can try to keep those people here.
We talked about how some employers are not familiar with optional practical training (OPT), and how OPT can be a bridge between a student being here on an F-1 visa and getting an H-1B through the employer, and how OPT allows employers to sort of see if the employee works out for them, and it also helps an employee make connections in the business community. We talked about ways to work with the local universities to really boost OPT and to raise awareness from employers of this possible avenue to finding good foreign talent.
We also talked about entrepreneurship in general, and how St. Louis can work towards increasing the number of new business startups in the St. Louis area, and we talked about a wide range of companies, not just the high tech but also the mom and pop stores started by immigrants that employ two or three people, because in this economy these days, the major employer coming to town is not really happening as much as it used to, and jobs are really being formed by smaller companies devoted towards helping people in a smaller scale.
The last thing we talked about was the EB-5 center here in St. Louis, and how that’s working towards connecting people who are interested in investing in St. Louis or in projects that would allow them to get a green card for the EB-5 investor visa program. Very nice fellow named George Bailey was there and he was explaining to us all the good work that St. Louis has done to become a center for EB-5 visa type activity.
We’re really excited about the work that the Mosaic Project is doing. We’re excited to be able to be a part of it on a very small way. We’re going to do everything we can to help immigrants feel welcome here in St. Louis. If you have any questions about the St. Louis Mosaic Project, or if you want to just talk generally about St. Louis and immigration and how those two things interact, give us a call (314) 961-8200 or you can shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.