A Successful Hairstylist from France is Held Back by US Immigration System

Philippe Ma, a Hong Kong native who grew up in France, started a successful hair salon in the Orlando area. Unfortunately, the uncertainties of the E2 visa – which doesn’t put him on a path to getting a green card – have kept him from expanding and leave him worried about his family’s future. 

Philippe Ma was born in Hong Kong but was adopted by a French family – and relocated to France – after his parents passed away when he was just 13 years old.  While there, he developed a love of hair dressing and had his own salon in the 11th Arrondissement. When he was invited to a hair styling event in Beverly Hills in 2000, however, he began dreaming of moving to America. “I was really impressed seeing all the opportunities for French hairstylists in the United States, and I felt that I could really succeed here,” Ma says. He adds that he was also drawn to the US because of “the real multicultural atmosphere,” which he felt would be welcoming to him as an Asian immigrant. 

He spent the next two years exploring ways to come to the United States.  And in 2002, he decided to immigrate to the US on an E2 visa and start a salon in the Orlando market – leaving his family temporarily behind in France. “I was taking a really big risk at the time,” Ma says.  He opened a small, 1,000-foot salon with just four chairs, and in the first months he gave out lots of work for free to generate buzz and interest. Within two months, his business had tripled.

Today Ma has five to seven full time hairstylists working at his salon, and he was recently awarded the top hairstylist for females by the Orlando Business Journal. His family has also since joined him – although he worries about what will happen to them in the future.  The E2 visa doesn’t put Ma on the path to a green card, and when his children turn 21 they will no longer be able to remain in the US on his visa.  “You really feel like a third class citizen,” Ma says of his situation, “And it’s very difficult for my children – their hearts and souls are American.”  He became particularly stressed during the recent economic downturn. “There’s so much uncertainty with this visa status,” Ma explains, “Every time there’s any sort of decline in business, I get very nervous.” 

Ma says he plans on waiting a few years and seeing if any reforms are made to the E2 system.  After that, he might reconsider his decision to live in the US. For now, his uncertain visa status is keeping him from expanding his business: He recently inherited funds from an uncle, but he left them in Asia. “If I had a more permanent status,” he says, “I would have loved to use those funds to expand my business.” 

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…