Immigrant Business Owners Urged to Access City Services

Wenqin and Jinxiu Lin posed at Super Five Discount Store ( Photo by Jesse Lent / Brooklyn Media Group)

Starting a new business can be bewildering for any New Yorker, with the thicket of regulations, licensing and permitting required. For immigrants who face language barriers and a lack of familiarity with city government, the process can be even more confusing. To make matters worse, few immigrants take advantage of government programs in place to help new business owners, Home Reporter reported:

Last month, the Fund for Public Advocacy and ACCION USA, in partnership with the office of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, published a survey of 625 immigrant-run businesses in New York City that found that 92 percent of immigrant entrepreneurs opened their businesses without any help from the city — financial, legal or otherwise. Additionally, more than half of the business owners that failed to receive such services said they were unaware the programs existed.

“Immigrant businesses are an economic blind spot for New York City,” de Blasio said. “We set out to solve the data deficit so we can start tailoring city programs to also suit the specific needs of immigrant entrepreneurs.”

Wenqin Lin, who immigrated to the United States from China 17 years ago and opened Super Five Discount Store in Brooklyn, offered his view on why immigrants don’t access the available services.

“It’s because of the language problem – limited English,” Lin explained. “But also because they’ve never heard of these programs available to them.”

The survey results served as a spur to action, according to Home Reporter.

Because of the survey results, the Fund for Public Advocacy — a non-profit organization within the public advocate’s office — will be launching listening tours throughout the five boroughs, to spread awareness of city programs assisting immigrant entrepreneurs, from financial counseling and marketing assistance to help applying for licenses and permits.

Additionally, 100 immigrant-owned businesses will be selected for a pilot program, in which potential projects such as website creation and social media marketing will be tried out, with the goal of implementing effective programs as city policy.

Lin suggested some additional measures to get the word out to immigrant business owners:

Lin proposes that the city do that by requesting non-native merchants be informed about government programs when they apply for a tax ID number. Additionally, he suggests the public advocate’s office advertise in local foreign language newspapers to get the word out. As his daughter Jinxiu Lin points out, this would be more effective than foreign ads in English publications.

“As immigrants, we prefer to read our own newspapers,’” she said. “My dad reads the newspaper every day, but it’s the Chinese version.”

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