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Entrepreneur's visa trouble threatens Oldsmar company ExtenSys Inc.

OLDSMAR — Roland Feijoo's multimillion-dollar technology firm employs 30 Americans, contributes to Oldsmar's property tax base and was hailed by the Tampa Bay Business Journal as the area's fastest-growing privately held company in 2007.

All of it could be imported to his native Canada if Feijoo, who has lived in the United States since 2000 on temporary visas, does not obtain permanent residency status by February.

"I think the impact is really not so much the jobs that would move, but the new (local) jobs that wouldn't be created," said Feijoo, the chief executive of ExtenSys Inc., a company that helps clients select the products and technologies to support their business needs. "We have positions that are open right now."

His latest application for a green card, or a permanent resident card, was denied April 19, a decision that his lawyer plans to appeal.

"It's not that he's not been proactive," said Jennifer Roeper, an attorney with Fowler White Boggs in Tampa. "This case was filed in 2008. That's two solid years that he's been waiting and this is only the first stage in the green card process. There are three stages."

His plight has caught the attention of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who contacted U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last week and requested that Feijoo's "situation be extended all due consideration."

And it comes two months after U.S. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., introduced legislation that would reward immigrant entrepreneurs with permanent visas if their firm adds at least five nonfamily employees, attracts $1 million in financing or earns $1 million in revenue.

ExtenSys is privately held and does not release its numbers, but Feijoo said the company did more business last month than all of 2003, when it brought in $2 million.

This year, it has added six employees to the payroll. Employees typically earn from $50,000 to $250,000 a year, Feijoo said.

"There's this notion that an immigrant is taking away jobs," he said. "Maybe that's true in some cases, but in many, many cases we're helping create jobs. We're helping to create the American dream."

According to Robert Litan, co-author of Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity, immigrants have founded 25 percent of the technology companies in the United States.

"How can this happen?" asked Dawn Renner, a Palm Harbor woman whose husband is a partner at ExtenSys. "Here's a guy whose company is doing well. Thirty families depend on him staying in Oldsmar. My husband is one of them."

• • •

When Feijoo was wooed to the United States in February 2000, he brought his wife, three children and 15 years of information technology experience at Canadian banks.

He received several job offers and accepted a position at Premier Systems Integrators in Clearwater. He was to plan, design and implement complex network security solutions for the company's customers.

Before Feijoo's arrival, Premier did about $400,000 in business. Within a year of his arrival, that number grew to nearly $10 million.

The company brought Feijoo to the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Premier promised to file a permanent application on Feijoo's behalf, he said. The company was sold and that promise was never fulfilled.

Over the next eight years, Feijoo, 46, worked for other companies and founded his own. He received additional extensions. His current visa, called an H-1B, has a six-year cap. Feijoo reached his limit Feb. 24. The only reason he's still in the area is that his 2008 application for permanent residency was still in process when the H-1B visa expired. Roeper, his attorney, argued for and was granted a yearlong extension for Feijoo while they waited on a decision from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Last month, the agency rendered its verdict: Denied.

"The United States has a lottery where they give a million visas away a year and when they do that, they have no idea of who they're getting," Feijoo said. "Here you have many, many people that come in from places like Canada and England — U.S.-friendly nations — that have a very, very difficult time."

Between application and legal fees over the past decade, he said he has spent between $25,000 and $40,000.

"People that come here legally, build businesses, take chances, fulfill the American dream, pay taxes, obey the rules, obey the laws — and still are met with massive costs," Feijoo said. "That's the absurdity of it."

His attorney, as part of the appeal, hopes Feijoo will qualify for another kind of visa that will allow him to stay in the United States permanently.

Every year, the Department of Homeland Security issues 65,000 EB-1 visas for people with exceptional ability, said Sharon Scheidhauer, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. It gives out 20,000 additional ones to people who hold master's degrees and are highly skilled in software programming and engineering, she said. The application process, from beginning to end, takes nearly a year.

"You have to show that you have this extraordinary ability through sustained national or international acclaim, like a Pulitzer Prize," Scheidhauer said. "There are very stringent documentation requirements. Very frequently, we have to go back to the applicant to ask for additional documentation."

Roeper thinks Feijoo meets the standards of an EB-1 visa. Besides the Tampa Bay Business Journal honor and the success of his business, he has been featured in Business Solutions magazine and appointed to the board of directors of WorkNet Pinellas, which promotes work force development.

"He has grown a business in a unique market niche," she said. "He's had some pretty extraordinary business accomplishments."

Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, who recommended that Feijoo apply for a vacancy on the WorkNet board last year, said the county can't afford to lose Feijoo or his company.

"There are 54,000 people out of work in Pinellas County right now," Brickfield said. "I want to get those people back to work.

"He has a business that's growing and he's employing more people. That's what we want."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

By the numbers

U.S. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., recently introduced legislation that would reward immigrant entrepreneurs with permanent visas if their firm adds at least five nonfamily employees, attracts $1 million in financing or earns $1 million in revenue.

$2 million Amount privately held ExtenSys says it earned in 2003.

6 New employees to ExtenSys' payroll this year.

$50K-$250K Typical ExtenSys employee's yearly pay

Entrepreneur's visa trouble threatens Oldsmar company ExtenSys Inc. 05/08/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 10, 2010 11:47am]

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