It was good news for Vermont that Sen. Patrick Leahy penned legislation recently that continued the successful foreign investment program for our state. The Senate approved the legislation by unanimous consent Aug. 2 to extend the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center program for three more years. The House is also expected to take up the vote, which is paired with extensions of other programs also set to expire, in the coming weeks. Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, has not indicated which way he will vote on the measure, but EB-5 is predicted to pass.
EB-5, which was introduced in Vermont back in 1997 (and originated in 1993), has brought thousands of jobs to our state, including a majority in the economically depressed Northeast Kingdom, mostly through projects brokered by Bill Stenger, chief executive officer of Jay Peak. Sugarbush also has been an active participant in the high-profile program. The program also has fueled businesses such as Country Home Products in Vergennes and Seldon Technologies in Windsor.
That is not nothing.
Without Leahyís bill, the program would have run out of money at the end of September. That would have been a shame. What has been done in Vermont should be a model for the rest of the nation. Stengerís work alone is held up as the work of a visionary.
As the senior senator was correct to point out recently, the Vermont Regional Center has been a successful private-public partnership between the state and several businesses, bringing economic development and job growth over 15 years.
Those jobs have boosted tourism and sparked initiatives in many struggling communities. Thatís the kind of ripple effect that resonates across every corner of the state, especially as hard economic times grind on. Successes and growth have been badly needed since the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s dried up somewhat across the state, and the recession hit in full force.
Since it was created, the EB-5 program has attracted more than a billion dollars in foreign investment to the United States and created thousands of new domestic jobs. Today, there are now more than 200 regional centers across the United States, with new applications pending. (Vermont remains the only state to serve as a regional center.) In Vermont alone, more than $200 million in EB-5 money has come across the transom.
Hereís how it works: The Regional Center program attracts foreign investors seeking legal permanent residency and a chance to invest in the American economy. Investors must pledge a minimum of $500,000 to a project within an approved regional center and must independently apply for EB-5 visas. If approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, foreign investors are granted conditional two-year green cards.
After two years, investors must provide proof that they have created at least 10 jobs as a result of their investments and that they have met additional investment requirements set by USCIS. As a result of the programís popularity, additional applications are pending with USCIS to establish new regional centers in several states.
Certainly, the ďbuy-yourself-a-green-cardĒ component of EB-5 has drawn fire and criticism over the years. But the number of jobs created often silences even ardent critics. State leaders like governors Howard Dean, James Douglas and now Peter Shumlin have been full-throated supporters of the program, in part because businesses like Jay and Sugarbush that are seeking the investments are far more on the hook than the state itself.
For its role, the state administers paperwork for EB-5, lending a layer of credibility to the process, but the individual businesses seek the investors, conduct the screenings, and take the risks. Of course, the state reaps the benefits of a shot in the economic arm and a lower unemployment rate. Those are hard repercussions to ignore or contest.
Vermont truly has been blessed by EB-5, and Stengerís doggedness to keep the program vital to the Northeast Kingdom and Vermont is laudable. Leahyís pursuit of an economic engine for Vermont is right for the fiscal equation being played out today. Because if EB-5 proves one thing, it is that every decision we make today is really a decision for the next 25 to 50 years.
And that truly is visionary and necessary for Vermontís extended vitality.
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