Overseas investors promised green cards for jobs

November 25, 2011
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LANSING — Foreign investors willing to put up a large lump sum can receive a green card under a federal program that Gov. Rick Snyder wants to use to bring capital to Michigan.

The EB-5 Visa Program provides 10,000 immigrant visas each year to investors willing to make at least a $500,000 investment and create 10 jobs, said Phil Santer, capital services associate for the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

At the beginning of his term, Snyder launched The Global Michigan Initiative to attract international entrepreneurs to Michigan. “The goal is to increase availability of capital in Michigan,” Santer said. Snyder hopes to do that through the EB-5 Visa Program.

The EB-5 Visa Program started in the 1990s, Santer said, but it’s a tool Michigan can use to a greater extent to increase foreign investment and capital in the state.

The immigrant receiving the visa is required to invest $1 million in their new businesses, said Santer. If they choose to locate their business in a targeted employment area, the cost is cut in half.

“That really opens up the market for additional investors,” he said. More people will be willing to make a $500,000 investment instead of a $1 million investment.

Although it is a federal program, Michigan is responsible for choosing the target area of the investors. Targeted employment areas, Santer said, are areas with high unemployment rates. If a city has an average unemployment rate 150 percent of the national average, it is a target area.

Rural areas — those outside of a city or town with 20,000 or more people — are also considered target areas for immigrant investors, according to the MEDC.

Wayne County, Mecosta County and others are considered Michigan’s target areas, Santer said.

The foreign investor receives conditional permanent resident status for a two-year period if they are accepted into the program, according to the MEDC. After that period, a permanent green card may be issued. The investor can apply for citizenship five years after they received the conditional permanent residence.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform is against the visa program. “The EB-5 program is evidence that the whole system is broken,” said Bob Dane, communications director for the federation. Instead of having an immigration policy based on skills, it’s based on how much money immigrants are willing to invest, he said.

The EB-5 Visa Program devalues what citizenship means, Dane said.

The U.S. has always welcomed foreign investment, and their reward is the money they make, he said. Green cards don’t need to be traded for the investment, Dane said.

“We’re getting to the point where we’re scalping green cards like they’re hockey tickets,” he said. “It’s a blue light special going on for the green cards.”

The EB-5 visas are given out through regional centers. The International Michigan Investments Regional Center is one of five in Michigan.

Regional centers connect foreign investors to projects here in Michigan, said Gary McRay, manager of the International Michigan Investments Regional Center. The investors are usually from China, South Korea or England.

Multiple projects are pending in Michigan but none has gone through the full process and been completed, McRay said.

After two years, if the investor proves the investment was made and 10 jobs were created, they receive a green card, he said. If the criteria aren’t met, the investor doesn’t receive a permanent green card.

Not all projects will be financially successful down the road, McRay said. “That’s true of all investments.”

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