Immigrants with lots of investment cash could get green cards

09/06/12 Janelle Irwin
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Officials in Tampa are considering applying for a program that would give residents of other countries legal status in the U.S. if they invest in American businesses. City council will organize a task force to evaluate whether an employment-based visa program called EB-5 would create jobs in Tampa.

Foreign nationals with the wherewithal to dump either a half million or a million dollars into an American business can get a green card for conditional permanent residence in the U.S. Thursday Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda isn’t sure whether that’s a good idea.

“People are dying and crossing great lengths of water to come here and, in most times, fail.”

Council member Mary Mulhern agreed with his concern.

“About whether you should be able to buy a green card when there are other people trying to become citizens. I don’t know how you answer this question, but as you’re giving these Visas or these green cards to these EB-5 people, is that just an additional number of immigrants that we’re allowing here?”

But Mikki Canton a Miami attorney, who specializes in implementing the program, said it’s not a loophole for rich immigrants to trump poor ones. Instead, there are a limited number of green cards available to people who qualify and they don’t impact those that are available to non-investors.

“This is a category in and of itself. It has nothing to do with the categories of other people who are waiting in line.”

And because the green card is permanent, council member Mike Suarez was worried immigrants would eventually bail on their end of the bargain.

“What I really have a problem with is whether or not they’ll stay here for a longer period of time because an investment can dry up pretty quickly and if they are the key partner in a particular industry, a particular business or a particular development, I don’t want to see a situation where we have a half built or mostly build facility that is not going to be used and now we have a problem.”

Tampa immigration attorney Bill Flynn said there are fail safes in place to make sure the green card isn’t a freebie. For example, the investor has to prove their worth with a solid business plan and at least ten new jobs.

“They need to be a sustainable type of an entity that’s going to be around and the jobs are going to be around.”

Most investments under the EB-5 program have to be one million dollars. But in so-called target employment areas, immigrants can get a green card with a $500,000 investment because those places are either rural or at least 150% of the national unemployment average. Council voted 5-1 to look into the program further. Council member Lisa Montelione was absent and Charlie Miranda voted against it. But council member Frank Reddick only voted for the resolution after making some changes.

“It bothered me as an elected official and a member of this body that we are going to give a private citizen the authority to appoint – organize and appoint – a committee that represents us as a council and we don’t have any say so in the people he appoint(s).”

Council member Yvonne Capin, who pushed the resolution, changed it to allow council members to approve a task force rather than a private citizen. Bill Flynn, the immigration lawyer, will still make recommendations on who to include on the committee. Council will vote on the matter on September 27. If a task force is approved, it will report back to City Council in January.

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