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An increasing number of immigrant women are entrepreneurs, according to a study by a Towson University professor for the Immigration Policy Center.

Success story with a twist

June 14, 2005|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

Armstrong credits a business instinct that emerged about age 9, when she sold homemade taffy on the school playground for half a penny.

"I grew up in a culture where you made your own money," she says. "I've been a Mary Kay consultant, sold things from catalogues to my co-workers; I always had something on the side. I think it's in my blood."

Pearce calls the women she interviewed adventurous self-starters.

"There are certain personalities who are going to come to the States anyway," says Pearce. "They are risk-takers. They are going out on their own to come here and are sometimes chosen by their families to do exactly that."

Once Sheela Murthy launched an Owings Mills immigration law firm, she began reaching out to other women. Of a staff of 50, about 90 percent are women.

Murthy left southern India for Harvard Law School in 1987. After earning a master's degree, she planned to work at a major firm in New York, earn enough to pay off loans and return home.

But she remained, working in New York and later Baltimore, where associates frequently asked for her help researching immigration cases.

Murthy knew the process all too well, having spent her first 12 years in the United States navigating the labyrinth of immigration paperwork from student visa to citizenship.

She had to wait for a "green card," or permanent residency, before she could start her firm.

"People think it's so easy; all these people jump into the fray and stay in this country," she says. "No way. It's tons of money, tons of time, tons of months and years of sleepless nights not knowing if your approval for a visa or a green card will go through."

Though the beginning was tough, Murthy says she thinks the success she has achieved would be unattainable in India. The fast-talking lawyer doesn't mince words when she criticizes women's roles in her home country.

"No woman in her right mind would want to go back," she says. "The notion there, and so much of the world really, is that women are created on this earth to serve the man."

Murthy believes that people who complain about a lack of opportunity in the United States don't know how good they have it.

"This is the only country that if you work hard, you do well," says Murthy. "If you sit around, you get nothing."

Top job choices for immigrant women

1. Private households - 77,239 - 14 percent

2. Child care services - 51,807 - 9 percent

3. Restaurants and other food services - 46,519 - 8 percent

4. Beauty salons - 34,043 - 6 percent

5. Services to buildings and dwellings - 21,732 - 4 percent

6. Real estate - 19,236 - 3 percent

7. Grocery stores - 12,412 - 2 percent

Source: Immigration Policy Center and 2000 U.S. census

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