Bureaucracy, Banking, and Business: The Effects of Nativism and Politico-Institutional Environment on Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Gatekeepers in Northern Virginia




Curry, Sarah M.

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This thesis explores how Latino (particularly Salvadoran), Korean, and Vietnamese immigrant entrepreneurs are affected by the political and bureaucratic environment of Northern Virginia. The Northern Virginia experience has particular value as a case study because it demonstrates how immigrants interact with a host society and how these relationships change under duress. This thesis draws on interviews collected from first-generation immigrant business owners and institutional gatekeepers, site visits, and survey data and interviews from the Barriers to Ethnic Entrepreneurship dataset from the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University. There are three crucial features to the description. First, financial institutions and government offices are crucial bureaucracies that immigrants must navigate effectively in order to operate businesses. Two case studies are provided that illustrate the efforts at accommodation local governments made when faced with two different conflicts—informal vendors at local soccer matches and a cultural delicacy that cannot be prepared without violating health code—between immigrant entrepreneurs and government departments. Immigrants’ confidence toward banking is also explored as are key problems with which banks, micro-credits, and immigrant entrepreneurs must all grapple: language issues, banks’ patterns of denial, problems in community outreach, the complexities of Small Business Administration (SBA) procedures, and the emphasis on “business plans.” Second, partnerships between local governments and community organizations are a key component of immigrant integration. One local training program for low-income women home day care providers is described. The program’s emphasis on empowering immigrant women by urging an identity as “business women” leads to self-regulation and the marketization of family life. Governmental and non-profit attempts to promote self reliance and women’s engagement are sometime counter-productive, but do diminish some of the barriers that exist for home day-care providers. Third, the host environment can limit entrepreneurs’ ability to succeed. During the summer of 2007, Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors voted to restrict undocumented immigrants from using social and county services. After the resolution, some entrepreneurs reported from 50% to 90% loss in sales, though many admitted that the immigration crisis is inextricable from the foreclosure crisis. The stories of five immigrant business owners operating in the politically charged environment of Prince William County demonstrate how the host environment’s laws, political environment, and sentiment about immigrants can impact immigrant businesses. Entrepreneurs, however, were able to employ various business and political resistance strategies in reaction to the county’s restrictive changes.



Northern Virginia, Prince William County, Immigrant, Entrepreneur, Micro-credit, Banks