03.13.08

The Introduction Of The State Foreign Investment Improvement Act

Leahy Introduces Bill To Create Jobs, Attract Foreign Investment To Vermont

WASHINGTON (Thursday, March 13, 2008) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) this week introduced legislation to make permanent a program that has attracted millions of dollars in direct foreign investment and created hundreds of new jobs for Vermont.  Leahy’s legislation would also strengthen the Regional Center pilot program at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The Regional Center pilot program was first created in 1993 and allows a regional governmental agency or private entity within a state to apply to the USCIS for designation as a Regional Center.  The designation allows agencies or entities involved to attract foreign investment to the region, bringing money and jobs into regional economies.  Through Leahy’s efforts, Vermont’s Regional Center was established in 1997 and rechartered in 2007.  Two Vermont ski resorts have actively participated in the Regional Center pilot program, launching ambitious development projects to draw more tourism and business to the state, and Vermont’s Regional Center has more investment projects in the works.

In turn, Regional Centers provide opportunities to foreign investors to invest in new American projects, as well as an avenue to citizenship, while adding an additional layer of screening against immigration fraud.  Foreign investors seeking legal permanent residency through investment must pledge a minimum of $500,000 to a targeted project within a Regional Center and independently 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 ten jobs within the region have been created as a result of the investment and that they have met additional investment requirements set by USCIS.

“There is no question that Vermont has benefited from the Regional Center pilot program,” said Leahy.  “I was proud to reauthorize the Regional Center program in 2003, and this successful partnership between American entrepreneurs and the USCIS is worth saving.  Making this program permanent would promote further long term investment in Vermont, in our industries and in our economy.  With the country on the brink of a recession, we should be doing all we can to increase jobs and provide additional access to capital to our local economies.” 

The Regional Center program has generated millions of dollars in job-creating investments since its inception.  There are 17 Regional Centers across the country, including the Vermont center.  In 2007 alone, investment through the Regional Centers totaled $500 million with the creation of 10,000 new American jobs, and USCIS officials have estimated that direct investment through the program will double in 2008. 

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy
On The Introduction Of The State Foreign Investment Improvement Act
Senate Floor
March 12, 2008

 
Today, I am introducing legislation to strengthen and make permanent the Regional Center pilot program at the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).   I am pleased that Senator Specter has joined me in this effort, and I commend him for his recognition of this program’s importance.  The Regional Center program has had tremendous success in creating American jobs and infusing investment capital into many economically challenged areas across the country, and I urge all Senators to join us in building upon this success.  
 
The Regional Center pilot program was created in 1993 by the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.  In 2003, I worked to reauthorize the program for an additional five years as part of the Basic Pilot Program Extension and Expansion Act.  The Regional Center pilot program is set to expire in September of 2008.  Should Congress fail to act before then, millions of dollars in capital and thousands of potential American jobs will be forfeited. The legislation I introduce today would make this pilot program permanent, and would make other important changes to strengthen its solid foundation.  
 
The Regional Center program allows a regional governmental agency or private enterprise within a State to apply for designation as a Regional Center through USCIS.  This designation allows the enterprise to recruit foreign investors to a discrete project or projects, and provides USCIS with an additional layer of screening against immigration fraud.  The process for a foreign citizen to gain legal permanent residence through the Regional Center program is a rigorous one.  Prior to applying to invest in a Regional Center, a foreign investor must pledge a minimum of $500,000 and independently apply for an EB-5 visa through USCIS, which solely determines the potential investor’s eligibility for a visa.  If approved, the investor is given a two-year conditional green card.  At the end of the conditional period and in order to continue legal residence in the United States, the investor must demonstrate that his or her investment created a minimum of ten jobs within the Regional Center, and that his or her investment was fully obligated to the targeted project.  
 
This program’s continuation promises a bright future for job creation and capital investment in participating communities.  The Regional Center program has resulted in millions of dollars of direct investment and the creation of thousands of jobs in the United States.  Moreover, foreign investment serves to attract additional domestic private sector capital, further increasing the program’s beneficial economic effects.  There are 17 Regional Centers across the country—and several more with pending applications—which manage investments in a diverse range of projects from energy production to resort development.  Making this successful program permanent will provide significant economic benefits to participating States at no cost to the taxpayer. 
 
My home State of Vermont has benefited tremendously from this program, with foreign investments committed to local projects ranging in the millions of dollars.  As a result of these ongoing developments, many new jobs are being created for Vermont’s residents.  For example, two of Vermont’s premier ski resorts are active participants in this program, and have been successful in attracting foreign investment to help make ambitious development projects a reality.  In a rural State like Vermont, which depends heavily on tourism and its natural resources, the Regional Center program has been instrumental in supporting projects that take advantage of Vermont’s natural resources and beauty, and its outdoor recreation opportunities.  
 
In addition to making the Regional Center program permanent, the bill also makes a number of other improvements to ensure its efficiency and to accommodate expected expansion.  The bill provides a premium processing option for potential investors, allowing expedited processing for an additional fee to USCIS, as well as concurrent processing of a potential investor’s application for designation as an immigrant investor and his or her adjustment of status application to obtain conditional permanent residency.  Finally, the bill creates a $2500 fee for those domestic entities applying for Regional Center status, and directs USCIS to re-invest this additional revenue back into the Regional Center program to allow the agency to accommodate future growth in the program.  
 
Because the pilot program is set to expire in 2008, potential investors are feeling a chill stemming from uncertainty about the Regional Center Program’s future.  Permanently authorizing this program will create certainty and predictability for potential investors interested in the numerous projects currently in development across the country.  This non-controversial program has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and I strongly believe that we would do well to increase American job creation and capital investment by matching American ingenuity with the desire of those who seek not only to invest in the United States, but who seek to share in our country’s promise as eventual citizens.    
 
In a time of severe economic turbulence, and in an era where Americans are witnessing the outsourcing of too many good jobs overseas, this bill builds upon a proven record of success and encourages investment and job creation in the States and local communities of our nation. 

 
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Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693