Leahy's Extension Of Investor Visa Program, Used In Vermont To Create Hundreds Of Jobs, Clears Congress, Heads To President’s Desk

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate late Tuesday approved and sent to the President’s desk a bill that includes Senator Patrick Leahy’s extension of the “investor visa” program that has attracted millions of dollars in economic development to Vermont, creating hundreds of jobs.

“This is a big win for our state,” said Leahy.  “This program has become an economic engine in Vermont, and we have proven it with the creation of hundreds of jobs.  I want Vermont to stay on the cutting edge in harnessing these investments for economic development throughout our state.  The biggest impediment to this program is its lack of permanence.  Business leaders like Bill Stenger have seen its potential, and extending this program will let him and other business leaders in Vermont move forward with new job-creating projects.”

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program, which is operated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has generated more than a billion dollars of investments, creating tens of thousands of jobs in states and communities across the country since it was established in 1993.  Leahy has led in extending the Regional Center pilot program, and introduced legislation last year to permanently authorize the program.  There now are 72 Regional Centers across the country, including Vermont’s, which is run within Vermont’s Department of Commerce and Community Development.  On July 22, Leahy held a Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the economic impact of the EB-5 Program, with testimony from Jay Peak Resort’s Bill Stenger.

Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, added a permanent extension of the EB-5 program to the Senate’s version of the annual Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill.  Leahy also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees USCIS.  The House bill did not include a counterpart to the Leahy amendment, and Leahy pushed to include a three-year extension in the final compromise bill, which the House has passed and the Senate passed Tuesday, in a vote of 79 to 19.  The President is expected to sign the bill.

Leahy has been instrumental in turning the program into a staple of job creation in Vermont.  Jay Peak’s Bill Stenger is using the program to turn the ski area into a four-season resort, and some 200 workers have been on site this fall for construction work on that project.  Governor James Douglas will be using the EB-5 program to encourage investments in Vermont in his trade mission to Asia.

Up to now, Vermont has been authorized to use the program especially for businesses related to tourism, such as the investments at Jay Peak and Sugarbush.   Leahy said renewal of the program comes just as Vermont won permission, last week, to begin using the program for several additional business areas: manufacturing, information technology, education and professional services.

“In Vermont, people like Bill Stenger at Jay Peak Resort and Win Smith at Sugarbush Resort have used the EB-5 program to keep Vermont’s ski industry a vibrant part of the Vermont economy,” Leahy continued.  “As a direct result of the EB-5 program, and even in a tough economic environment, dozens of subcontractors in Northeastern Vermont are hard at work on a project financed through these investments.  The jobs at Jay Peak are filled by Vermonters and the vast majority of the furnishings used in the Jay Peak resorts are produced in Vermont, demonstrating the diverse economic benefits of the program.  And now that permission has come to expand into other business fields, Vermont’s Regional Center will be actively matchmaking between investors and other economic development ventures in our states.”

Under the Regional Center program, foreign investors are required to pledge a minimum of $500,000 to a project within a Regional Center and can apply for an EB-5 visa.  If approved by USCIS, foreign investors are granted a conditional two-year green card.  After two years, the investor must provide proof that he or she has created at least ten jobs as a result of the investment and has met additional investment requirements set by USCIS.  

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On The Passage Of The Fiscal Year 2010
Department Of Homeland Security Appropriations Act
Senate Floor
October 20, 2009

I am pleased that the Senate has passed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Report.  This legislation contains important funding for the Department of Homeland Security to carry out its various responsibilities.  I commend Chairman Inouye and Subcommittee Chairman Byrd for their hard work on this legislation, and also for their support of a vibrant immigration program that fosters direct investment in U.S. job creation that is extended through this legislation.

The Conference Report we passed today contains a three-year extension for the EB-5 Regional Center program.  This extension will bring badly needed stability to this program.  Foreign investors who look to the Regional Center program must have the confidence that the Federal Government supports and believes in this program.  Stakeholders that rely on financing through this program must have the predictability that this three-year extension will help provide.  As the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services expressed to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a recent hearing about this program, the biggest impediment to the EB-5 Regional Center program is its lack of permanence.  I have long believed in the potential of this program as an economic engine for America’s communities.  Given the recent and rapid expansion in the number of approved Regional Centers around the country, it is clear that many Americans recognize this potential, as well.    

In an effort to make this program an integral part of our immigration system, I offered an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill on the Senate Floor to provide for its permanent authorization.  That amendment was overwhelmingly adopted.  Unfortunately, the Conference Committee did not retain that permanent authorization, and once again, irrational immigration politics got in the way of good policy.  Instead of making permanent a program that has created thousands of American jobs and brought more than $1 billion of capital investment into our communities since 2006, the Conference was compelled to sacrifice this opportunity for no legitimate reason.  However, it is still heartening to know that over the next three years the citizens who are working to better their communities through the Regional Center program will be able to do so without the fear of constant interruption and uncertainty.

I want to take a moment to commend all of the resourceful business people who have turned to this program to finance key economic development projects in their communities.  Despite the hurdles that have continually hampered the efforts I have led to renew the program, the stakeholder community has not only continued to work hard on improving local economies across the country, but has directly engaged members of Congress to ensure that this program does not wither away.  As a result of their efforts to retain a strong extension in the Conference Report, I am confident that many more members of Congress have a better understanding of this program’s potential and importance in their own communities.

These stakeholders all deserve thanks for the jobs and capital investment they are bringing to their communities.  In Vermont, people like Bill Stenger at Jay Peak Resort and Win Smith at Sugarbush Resort have used the EB-5 program to keep Vermont’s ski industry a vibrant and foundational part of the Vermont economy.  As a direct result of the EB-5 Regional Center Program and in a very difficult economic environment, dozens of subcontractors in Northeastern Vermont are hard at work on a project financed through the EB-5 Regional Center program.  And in an effort to build on these successes, the State of Vermont is actively involved in working to expand the business sectors covered by Vermont’s Regional Center so that technology firms and other diverse Vermont business enterprises can market their investment opportunities to a global audience.  My efforts will continue in support of the Regional Center program.  I look forward to helping Vermont and States across the country realize the full potential of this program through a permanent authorization.     

I am also pleased that the Conference retained an important measure to correct a serious inequity in immigration law commonly known as the widow penalty.  Prior to the corrective amendment contained in this legislation, a foreign national widow or widower of a U.S. citizen was put into the untenable position of not only losing their spouse, but losing their lawful permanent residence and path to U.S. citizenship.  To underscore the nature of this injustice:  In cases where a marriage was entered in good faith and without any fraud or ill intent, if the U.S. citizen spouse passed away during the period of conditional residency, the immigration agency took the position that the widow or widower no longer had standing to become a lawful permanent resident.  This is wrong, and for a society that places such great value on family, a truly unfortunate position.  The amendment in this legislation, which I and other Senators worked hard to ensure was retained in the Conference Report, will end this injustice.

The Conference Report also contains an amendment to extend a visa program that allows individuals from around the world dedicated to working on behalf of their religious faiths to come to the United States to do just that.  I am pleased that the efforts I and others made to ensure this measure was retained have resulted in its adoption.

Finally, I commend the Conference Committee for rejecting an amendment that would have done little more than waste taxpayer dollars and cause further harm to the rights of property owners and the environment along our Southern border.  The Conference Committee wisely rejected an amendment that would have, in effect, required the Department of Homeland Security to tear down and rebuild hundreds of miles of barriers between the United States and Mexico that have already been constructed, at enormous expense to taxpayers.  The Secure Fence Act, a piece of legislation I strongly opposed, directed the Department of Homeland Security to build border fencing and other barriers as a response to illegal border crossings.  The Department carried out this legislative command during the Bush administration, and constructed pedestrian fencing with vehicle barriers and other infrastructure.  The amendment that was rejected by the Conference Committee would have compounded the negative effects that attended the border fence’s original construction, and wasted taxpayer dollars in the process.  I commend the Conference for its wisdom in not accepting this amendment.

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