June 19, 2012. An article by Marcia Heroux Pounds, Broward/Palm Beach Sun Sentinel.

South Florida has the highest share – 45 percent – of immigrant business owners, of metropolitan areas in the United States, according to a new analysis by Fiscal Policy Institute, a research group in New York.

The study indicates a change since 1990 when the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area was tied with Los Angeles in immigrant business ownership, both at 35 percent, the Institute said.

Business ownership by immigrants is closely linked to large immigrant populations, the Institute says in its study released this month. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan region also has the largest share – 47 percent – of the labor force who are foreign born.

The region eclipses Los Angeles with 44 percent share of foreign-born business owners and 43 percent share of the labor force; and New York with a 36 percent share of immigrant business owners and 36 percent of the labor force.

Immigrant businesses are rooted in ethnic neighborhoods, said David Dyssegaard Kallick, senior fellow of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York City. He said many of the businesses started by immigrants are the same “bread and butter” operations such as restaurants, grocery stores and other services for their communities.

Kallick said the Fiscal Policy Institute’s study was the first he is aware of that looks at small-business owners that were incorporated, rather than mostly self-employed individuals. Nearly 60 percent of the foreign-born business owners had at least one paid employee.

Rafael Cruz, regional director of the Small Business Development Center in Fort Lauderdale, said the region’s strong ties to South America is a major factor. In recent years, the metro area has drawn foreign investment from Brazilians and Canadians, who not only invest in houses but also in businesses, he said.

Some people who want to stay in the country invest in a business to obtain a visa, he said.

But foreign owners must invest a “substantial” amount, from $500,000 to $1 million in a U.S. business, depending on the visa program, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

People often find that U.S. businesses are simpler to open than in their home country, where ownership is more restrictive, he said.