Vogel: EB-5 Reauthorization

Sep 30, 2015

Creating a just and rational Immigration system poses difficult, complex and critical questions.

In spite of the need to address urgent issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis and fix our broken immigration system, Congress has chosen instead to focus on the reauthorization of the EB-5 program, which enables immigrants and their families to obtain work permits and permanent residency if they make a $500,000 investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States.

Initially, Congress claimed that EB-5 is a jobs program and required that this $500,000 investment create ten permanent jobs for qualified U.S. workers. But two years later, Congress modified this requirement so foreign investors could count indirect jobs, saved jobs and induced jobs if they channeled their investment through Regional Centers.

In Vermont, Bill Stenger has raised more than $500 million dollars of EB-5 money to finance various ventures, including projects at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain. However, when it comes to the overall EB-5 program, even Stenger is critical about the way some developers have used EB-5 money and dealt with their investors. He’s written that, “out of the more than 750 EB-5 projects in the country, Jay Peak is one of only a handful actively engaged in paying back its investors.”

So we probably shouldn’t be surprised to learn that, at last count, there were 59 open investigations for fraud related to the EB-5 program, nationally – and it's inspired some very creative accounting. But what troubles me most is the fact that the U.S. is essentially selling green cards.

I think it’s unfair that a fully qualified family that plays by the rules, has to wait twenty years for a green card while another family jumps to the front of the line simply because it has $500,000 to invest.

Becoming a permanent resident and ultimately a citizen of the United States is an accomplishment most immigrants treasure – and work long and hard to achieve. To my mind, selling that opportunity undermines – you might even say cheapens - this wonderful privilege.

Piecing together a fair and effective immigration policy is challenging. But Congress ought to be able to come up with something better than this.