|Invest in America, Get a Green Card?|
By Ashton Ellis
Thursday, May 19 2011
What if there was a way to link economic growth, job creation and an easier pathway for foreign investors to relocate to the United States – all without having to pass a single federal law? As usual, the legal answer to a political problem is already on the books. It just needs to be followed.
As part of the Immigration Act of 1990, Congress created the EB-5 visa that allows foreign nationals to obtain a green card for investing at least $500,000 in an American project that creates at least 10 new jobs. The law is designed to spur economic development in areas experiencing high unemployment rates.
For areas with average unemployment rates, the minimum individual investment rises to $1,000,000.
Unable to get regulatory relief from state officials, local government leaders in California are turning to EB-5 visas as a way to stem the tide of relocations to business-friendly states like Texas.
Lately, officials in Riverside County have been aggressively pursuing EB-5 funding from foreign investors to revitalize a shopping center in Murrieta, and begin work on a proposed housing development adjacent to a golf course in Desert Hot Springs. The Murrieta shopping center raised $12 million from 24 Asian investors. The golf course housing initiative is gaining steam from a Canadian business group looking to build 1,500 homes and 900 condos, some of which could turn into residences for down-the-road American citizens.
Another little known immigration law is the E-2 visa that grants green card status to any foreigner who invests at least $50,000 to start a business in the United States. While the upfront barrier to entry is lower than the EB-5, the requirements for maintaining one’s presence in the country are higher.
Unlike EB-5, whose economic benefits are defined mainly in terms of immediate job creation, the E-2 program requires a renewal process every five years. During that time, a business owner must demonstrate that his or her operation is continuing to benefit the local economy in some way, usually through job creation or increased tax revenues.
Clearly, the EB-5 and E-2 programs do not address the flow of low-skill immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. However, each shows that the federal government knows how to target the kinds of would-be Americans that create jobs instead of filling them.
Moreover, foreign nationals operating under these programs face a level of government scrutiny many native-born American citizens would find unacceptable. Most investors and small business owners recoil at the idea of having a bureaucrat judge the viability of a firm on the basis of how many jobs it creates. If such a standard were applied during the last three years, many businesses surviving the Great Recession would have been shut down for shedding employees and improving efficiencies.
Even imitating General Electric’s ability to escape an entire year’s worth of federal tax liability would likely be counted as a strike against continued approval.
And yet, foreign investors from Asia to Canada are lining up for a shot at American citizenship by putting their money where their wealth and business acumen wants to be. If these successful business people are willing to put skin in the game to grow the American economy, why not incentivize their way to the citizenship line?
Conservatives are rightly upset with President Barack Obama’s intentional lack of seriousness about illegal immigration and border security. His equating patriotic Americans with strawmen who want “moats” and “alligators” defames those who want nothing more than the legally required border fence to be built. By pandering only to the radical elements of America’s growing Latino constituency, the president is playing racial cards that will continue to divide people by the color of their skin.
Immigration programs like EB-5 and E-2 demonstrate there is a different way forward. With the American economy facing a “jobless recovery,” huge public deficits and tightfisted lenders, it’s time for state and federal officials to see the wisdom of their local counterparts: The only way to dig our way out of this mess is to get as many investors, builders and entrepreneurs into this country as are willing to come and set up shop.
Besides, can America ever have too many job creators?
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