As a line from the popular Broadway musical, “Hamilton” says, “Immigrants! We get the job done.” That declaration transcends the stage — America is a nation made up of residents who, in large part, immigrated from other countries — or who descended from immigrants.
According to the New American Economy, about 3.2 million immigrants run their businesses, making up 1 in 5 entrepreneurs in the country. The immigrant-owned business industry employs 8 million workers, making up $1.3 trillion in total sales of the U.S. market.
Despite the staggering figures, it is not always easy to find small business loans as an immigrant. Thankfully, there are some stellar options out there.
Business Loans for Non-U.S. Citizens: What to Know
Your citizenship status can impact what loans you can access and how much you can borrow. Some small business owners might find it more convenient first to obtain citizenship so that they could be considered for more financing options and higher loan amounts.
U.S. Citizenship Status
Depending on the lender, it can be beneficial for the applicant to be a full U.S. citizen. Most major lenders require a Social Security number (SSN) to obtain a business loan for an immigrant or American citizen. While those on a working visa or work approval status might have one, it is usually temporary. Temporary status says to a lender that things are just that, temporary. Lenders are likely to consider non-citizens a higher risk and potentially reject their funding requests.
Business owners with temporary citizenship status can obtain a loan co-signer — one who is a U.S. citizen — to help open doors to more lenders.
To obtain a non-temporary SSN, you will need to become a citizen. Citizenship is not a legal requirement to get a loan, and some lenders will not ask for one, but several major players in the lending business do.
If getting citizenship itself is a costly venture for you, a handful of lenders offer small loans to help immigrants become full U.S. citizens. These loans average between $500 to $2,000 and cover only the legal fees and application costs.
Lending institutions require the same information and documents from both native-born and immigrant loan applicants. While not all banking or lending services will require the same documents, having as much handy as possible will make the process go a lot smoother.
As an immigrant, it’s important to build your credit in the United States. Despite how your finances look in another country, many U.S.-based institutions will want you to have built up credit here.
Immigrant Finance recommends immigrants obtain a U.S. credit card to help build such lines of credit. Other factors, such as paying rent and utility bills on time and minimizing debt, can also help build positive credit scores, according to Immigrant Finance.
Business History and Assets
Lenders will look at your time in business, available collateral, ongoing debt load, the business’ cash flow and what industry the business is in when considering whether you qualify for a small business loan.
- Social Security number (SSN)
- Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN)
- Immigrant visa
A Social Security number is only permanent for U.S. citizens, or people with lawful alien status.
An ITIN is a 9-digit number issued to people who must have a U.S. taxpayer ID number but don’t have — or aren’t eligible for — an SSN, according to the IRS. You can obtain an ITIN by completing and submitting a W-7 form.
An immigrant is required to have a visa to work and live in the U.S. In most cases, a petition must be filed and approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before applying for the visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate if you live outside of the U.S.
Small Business Loans Available to Immigrants
As an immigrant business owner, there are countless financing options you can pursue.
Small Business Administration
Explore many types of loans for starting and expanding a business, handling disasters, and exporting goods. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans have the added protection of being backed by the SBA.
“Loans guaranteed by the SBA range from small to large and can be used for most business purposes, including long-term fixed assets and operating capital,” according to the SBA website. “Some loan programs set restrictions on how you can use the funds, so check with an SBA-approved lender when requesting a loan. Your lender can match you with the right loan for your business needs.”
These loans can range from $500 to $5 million. To be eligible, the business owner must prove:
- It’s a for-profit business
- You do business in the U.S.
- You’ve invested equity into the business
- You’ve exhausted other financing options
U.S. Department of Agriculture
These government-guaranteed business loans can be for small businesses, nonprofits or other organizations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guarantees loans through 3 different programs: the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program, the Intermediary Relending Program, and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program. These loans are made by lenders, such as banks and credit unions in areas with a population of 50,000 or fewer residents.
These funds can be used for the following needs:
- Working capital
- Purchasing commercial real estate
- Purchasing equipment or inventory
- Expanding your business
Small Business Lending Fund
This Treasury Department initiative provides capital to qualified community banks and community development loan funds (CDLFs). This funding aims to help promote economic growth and create new jobs in under-served communities.
“Established by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 (the Act), the Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF) is a dedicated fund designed to provide capital to qualified community banks and community development loan funds (CDLFs) to encourage small business lending,” explained the Department of Treasury’s website. “The purpose of the SBLF is to encourage Main Street banks and small businesses to work together, help create jobs, and promote economic growth in communities across the nation.”
For more information on federal loans, business owners can visit GovLoans to research the types of federal loans available for your business, and learn how to apply for one.
Business term loans are used for long term investments, including equipment, debt refinancing and commercial real-estate. With long term business loans, you receive a one-time infusion of capital and pay it back over the term.
There are unsecured business term loans and secured business term loans. With unsecured loans, you’re not required to offer collateral to obtain the loan, though you may have to provide a personal guarantee. This means that if your business can’t repay the loan, you’ll be personally responsible. Also, you’ll likely have a higher interest rate and shorter repayment window than you’d find with a secured loan.
Merchant Cash Advance
A merchant cash advance (MCA) is a lump sum of capital loaned against a business’s future sales. Some businesses could be advanced up to $500,000.
The business will pay back the funding in daily or weekly installments; repayment periods can be a few as 3 months or as many as 18 months.
Once approved for an MCA, a business could receive funding in as little as 1 day.
Business Line of Credit
Like a credit card, a business line of credit gives a business owner access to capital that can be spent as needed. As the money is paid back, the line of credit replenishes itself and any available funding can be spent. Interest is paid only on the amount the business owner spends.
A business line of credit can cover various expenses, including paying employees or investing in projects to grow your company.
If you find yourself in need of new business equipment — such as a computer, tractor or oven — as you either expand your business or update old and broken equipment, this type of financing can help you cover the expense.
With equipment financing, you can fund either a percentage or the entire cost of the equipment; interest rates can start around 8%. Some repayment terms can span from 1 year to 5 years, and business owners could receive the funding within 2 days of approval.
Working Capital Loan
A working capital loan can help you cover operations, including paying your workers or purchasing a piece of equipment. You could be funded up to $500,000, and interest rates can start at 7%.
Working capital loans can be paid back over 3 years or in as many as 25 years.
Some immigrants could seek minority-specific loans. This is an option if you’re a business owner who is also a part of an ethnic or social minority group.
“To be considered an ethnic minority, the qualifying individual is at least 25 percent Asian, Black, Hispanic, or Native American, according to the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), which certifies or confirms for the government and corporations, that a business is truly minority-owned,” PayPal’s website states. “Qualifying minority individuals can be Caucasian, but at a disadvantage due to income, education, or physical limitation which puts them in a social minority.”
The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), a department of the U.S. Department of Commerce, does not directly provide loans, but, through federal grant funding, provides assistance for business owners to find unique avenues to cash.
“From initial seed money to working capital needed to keep operations going and to pay bills, access to capital remains a major barrier to many minority-owned firms,” said the MBDA website.
The agency recommends you visit a Minority Business Center in person to get specialized information for your business. Be sure to bring basic loan documentation, which can include the loan application, your background information, a business plan, tax returns and bank statements.
There are rules, however, as to how the funds can be used. The organization notes it doesn’t provide loans or grants to start or expand a business. “The grants MBDA does provide are to organizations that operate MBDA’s Minority Business Centers throughout the United States. These organizations provide business consulting, procurement matching and financial assistance to minority-owned firms.”
Recommended Lenders for Immigrant Business Owners
There are countless types of loans for many needs, and just as many places offer such funding. Each type of lender offers its pros and cons.
Traditional Banks or Credit Unions
When business owners think of lenders, it is likely the “big banks” that come to mind. International and national chains, as well as local and regional banks or credit unions, can offer business financing. However, business owners will likely find that these institutions have a much higher bar set to get your hands on cash. If you’re a business owner with a fair or poor credit score (about 660 or lower), or if you’ve been in business for only a short amount of time, it can be challenging to qualify for funding from traditional institutions.
If you do qualify, it can take several weeks to go through the application and approval process and then finally have funds reach your pocket.
To skip the “lines” created by big business, small business owners can seek funding from alternative lenders, such as Kabbage, Prosper, Lending Club and Fast Capital 360.
These online lenders offer less strict requirements and faster approval times for business funding. An alternative lender can also get you faster access to your funding. They’re also more inclined to lend to small businesses, where big banks see them as a risk.
Additionally, lending services such as Fast Capital 360 focus on your specific needs. Fast Capital 360 offers a wide variety of funding for operational needs — whether you need cash for working capital or need specific equipment, there is an assortment of financial products to assist immigrant loan seekers.