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Fast-pass visa program could bring capital and jobs for North Lo - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Jobs for fast-pass visas, Caddo Commission mulls EB-5 foreign investor program

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If foreigners want to work or live in the United States, for any period of time, they need a visa to gain access across the border. Currently, there's a backlog of visa applications, especially from China. However, the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as EB-5, allows wealthy foreigners a sort of fast-pass to a visa and into the country. They just need to create U.S. jobs. Local leaders want EB-5 to benefit our area's job market. Getting it may require a regional center to handle the paperwork and more. Caddo Parish commissioners may commit taxpayer dollars to create the center.

The Chinese investors who recently toured the parish could find doing business does more than gain them money but a quick, residential visa. The commission hopes to tempt them  and other foreign investors into Caddo Parish with the EB-5 visa program. Only, they just don't want to jump the gun and blindly spend nearly a quarter  million dollars to create an EB-5 center to service the investors. After doing  a little research, parish administrator Woody Wilson says  there may be a cheaper way.  

"It was on our agenda to appropriate the money, but in light of most recent information, we thought we'd just table it for a minute and have a discussion with the new information and proceed," Wilson said.

EB-5 visas require foreign investors to drop at least $1 million into a commercial enterprise in need of cash. Ten U.S. jobs must be created or preserved by the investment before they can get the two year visa. The new motor company Elio Motors, which promises hundreds of jobs for our area, is an example of what they can invest into. 

"So, I wouldn't categorize it as visa for sale," Rhoshunda Rhodes said. She's an immigration attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. Rhodes says less money can be invested if it's put into an area with extreme unemployment, which is called a Targeted Employment Area. Some area small towns, like Vivian with its Ward Two Industrial Park, might qualify. The increases the parish's potential gain in capital.

"T.E.A., that's a geographical area where the population is less than 20,000," Rhodes explained. "Then the minimal investment will drop to $500,000 as opposed to $1 million."

Rhodes says an EB-5 center isn't essential for participation in the program. Instead, it acts as a middle-man for the investor, federal government and the enterprise that's in search of cash. Wilson says the parish would prefer a center to service all of North Louisiana, that would spread the cost burden. The North Louisiana Economic Partnership could host the center since it brings industry to 14 parishes already. Its director Scott Martinez says NLEP is interested but needs more research.

"From our perspective, anything that enhances capital investment and capital attraction to North Louisiana and promotes employment creation, whether its the EB-5 program or any other," Martinez said.

Rhodes says foreign investors can work directly with an enterprise. A center takes on the visa application burden for them. For example, it  provides the federal government with information for investor background checks, investment plans and more. She says once an investor gets into the country they have two years to get a green card for permanent residency or be deported. In that time, the center works with the feds to make sure an investment is successful and to monitor an investor's return.

"So, there's accountability between the regional center and U.S. Department of Homeland Security up to the two years the foreign investor has temporary or conditional resident's status," Rhodes said.

As of now, the Caddo Commission will continue to discuss ways to bring an EB-5 visa program and center to the parish. The body better hurry if it wants to reap the possible economic benefits EB-5 has to offer. The regional center is actually a pilot program that is set to end in September 2015 if Congress doesn't extend it.

There is an act in the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Bill that saves the centers and cuts some red tape in the EB-5 program. That's waiting for approval from the house of representatives. The SKILLS Visa Act was passed by a House committee. It also preserves EB-5 centers, as well as toughens or modernizes investor requirements. Congressman John Fleming says he likes EB-5 but other immigration issues need to be solved first.

"That's, I'm open to the idea of enchanting the EB-5 program as long as we fix border security internally and externally first," Fleming said.

The EB-5 visa was passed by Congress in 1990. The regional center program was passed a few years later. About 80 percent of EB-5 visa applicants were Chinese in 2012.

 

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