Jaclyn Trop reports in the The Detroit News that when Debi Scroggins needed investors to grow her Bearclaw Coffee Co. franchise, she looked to the Middle East.

The founder of the Ann Arbor-based coffee company has recruited nearly a dozen Iranians — with more to follow — to open mobile coffee carts in the United States at $180,000 a pop.

“These are candidates who are cash-ready,” Scroggins said. “I’ve had so many candidates (in the United States) who have $30,000 to put down and cannot get financing because they lost their home equity and they lost their 401(k) and, oh, by the way, their credit has nicks in it.”

The E-2 visa Scroggins’ investors must obtain allows them to enter and live in the United States by making a substantial investment in a business they will control. The temporary visas, which must be renewed every other year, are available to all U.S. “treaty nations.”

Though U.S. economic sanctions against Iran prevent the nation from doing business here, the E-2 visa allows individual investors to flex their entrepreneurial muscles on U.S. soil — and improve diplomatic relations between the two countries. Bearclaw’s program “sends a positive message” to Iranians, said Fay Beydoun, executive director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce in Dearborn. “There may be disagreements on politics, but when it comes to getting down to business, there are opportunities to invest in the U.S.”

Foreign investors have increasingly been looking to Asia and other burgeoning economies. But the E-2 visa remains popular with individual investors looking to locate here, especially in immigration hotspots such as Texas, Florida, California and Illinois.

For small-scale franchises like Bearclaw that offer training and support, E-2 visas can attract eager entrepreneurs who will create jobs, bolster the franchise and boost local economies.

The E-2 visa program “made the difference between growth and stagnation for us,” Scroggins said. “You have to look at ways to grow your business in 2010 and (ask), ‘How can I bring jobs here?’ ”

The money enabled Bearclaw to move its headquarters from Chelsea to larger digs in Ann Arbor and to control its distribution channels, pricing and vendors.

“We need to think small because it’s small businesses that create more jobs,” said Scott Cooper, an immigration attorney with Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy in Troy.

The number of E-2 visas granted held steady in the 1990s and rose sharply at the beginning of the decade before peaking at 40,657 in 2007, according to the State Department. The number fell to 34,637 last year because many foreign nationals with cash to spend are choosing countries with less stringent regulations and U.S. consulates are slower to approve applications, he said.

The amount of money required to obtain the visa depends on the industry, said Taher Kameli, Bearclaw’s immigration attorney in Chicago. Though $180,000 may comprise a substantial amount for a mobile coffee unit, a hotel investment could entail millions of dollars, he said. It is not clear how many other U.S. businesses are recruiting franchisees with the E-2 visa.

Bearclaw began advertising its investment opportunities in a TV commercial in Dubai last year and quickly attracted interest.

Read more at: The Detroit News