Owning a business is one of best ways for immigrants who don’t have any legal immigration status to build wealth. When you’re a business owner, you don’t have to rely on anyone but yourself to make an income.
Running a business allows you to make money in a way that is legal. Undocumented immigrants, you do not have permission to work legally in the U.S. for another employer. However, there is no law that says undocumented immigrants can’t own their own business.
There are hundreds of thousands of American small businesses that are owned by undocumented immigrants. Some estimate that as many as eight to ten percent of undocumented immigrants own businesses.
Being an undocumented immigrant presents uncertainty in all areas of life, including challenges to running a sustainable business because there’s always a chance you may have to leave the country. But there are action steps you can take to minimize risks and build wealth over time.
3 Steps to Build Wealth as an Undocumented Immigrant
Step #1: Legally Registering Your Business is the First Step to Building Wealth as a Business Owner
Despite not having legal immigration status or a social security number, you can still legally register your business. Doing so will help protect your business assets in case you ever face immigration problems.
First, apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). ITINs were created to allow foreign nationals who do not have a social security number to pay taxes.
You don’t need to have any immigration status to apply for an ITIN. Instead, provide a copy of your birth certificate or foreign identification, such as passport, military, or state identification.
ITINs have many benefits that can help you minimize risk. With an ITIN, some banks allow you to open a bank account or a credit card, which can help you manage your money better. Paying taxes through an ITIN will also help you demonstrate that you are a responsible, contributing member of society in case you are ever in immigration court, applying for a green card, or want to benefit from potential immigration reform in the future.
Second, once you have an ITIN, you can apply for an employer identification number online or by mail or fax following the instructions. This is because Section 7b of the application, which asks for an identification number, allows you to put down an ITIN instead of a social security number. With that, the IRS will consider you the owner of a legal U.S. company.
Then, you can go to your local city office and apply for a business license.
Once your business is registered, you will be a lawful business owner. You have taken the first step to make money and build wealth. Just make sure to follow other U.S. laws governing small businesses, such as those regarding permits, health codes, labor laws, etc.
Step #2: Make Peace With the Uncertainty of Being an Undocumented Business Owner With a Money Mindset That Balances Risk & Preparation
Risk and uncertainty are the names of the game for any business owner, but especially for business owners who are undocumented.
Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to control whether you may have an immigration problem in the future. But if you focus only on the worst things that could happen — for example, getting deported and losing everything — it will be difficult to ever launch and successfully run a business.
Instead, channel your energy toward the things that you can control: doing the best possible work you can, each and every day, to grow your business and build wealth.
One helpful strategy is to work to strike a balance between taking smart risks and preparing for the worst in a way that feels right for you. On the one hand, you do not want to let your lack of immigration status hold you back from being an entrepreneur who takes reasonable business risks. On the other hand, you need to be realistic and aware that it’s possible to lose everything at any moment and make plans to minimize that risk.
Embracing the right money mindset as an entrepreneur can help you find this delicate balance. Choose to have courage over fear. Trust that you will find a way to make things work, even when it seems impossible. Take reasonable steps in areas you can control to protect your business.
In some ways, having no immigration status gives you an advantage over competitors because you know how to live with constant risk. When other business owners freak out because of hard times, it may be the norm for you. As long as you take risks that are reasonable in your business, the uncertainty that comes with being an undocumented business owner may even help your business thrive and maintain a culture of innovation.
Setting clear financial goals for yourself, your family, and your business is a great way to take action to build wealth despite uncertainty about your immigration situation. Educate yourself about personal finance that is specific to immigrants. This will help you focus on what you can control to grow your wealth. Read some of the best personal finance books is a great place to start.
Step #3: Make an Emergency Preparedness Plan for Your Business
It’s also important to be realistic and make a plan for your business in case you are ever do face a worst case scenario such as deportation. Having an emergency preparedness plan in place may allow you to find a way to keep your business alive and continue building wealth no matter where you are in the world.
This takes careful planning. Some decisions you need to make include: Who will be in charge of running the day-to-day operations if you can’t be there in person? Who can you trust to have joint access to your financial accounts? Are there online tools available you can build into your business that would allow you to manage and streamline operations virtually from anywhere in the world, in case you are not allowed to stay in the U.S.?
Starting an emergency savings fund is also a powerful way to help you fight to stay in the U.S. and continue growing your business and building wealth.
These backup plans can be crucial if you ever need to fight deportation in immigration court. For example, you may need to pay for an immigration attorney, which can cost thousands of dollars. Having an immigration attorney can make you about five times more likely to win your case, giving you a higher chance to stay in the U.S. and continue your business. You may also need thousands of dollars in cash to pay an immigration bond. Having a designated point person you trust who can quickly access your accounts and take out money for you may be the only way to pay these immigration expenses.
These emergency backup plans can be a lifesaver if you need them. They may determine whether you are able to stay in the U.S., continue your business, and build future wealth.
Your lack of immigration status doesn’t need to hold you back from starting a business and building wealth. With the right steps — registering your business, developing a money mindset that balances risk and preparedness, and making an emergency plan — it is possible to create a thriving business as an undocumented immigrant.