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Another Voice: Congress needs to reauthorize EB-5 program

By William Gresser

Through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, foreign investors are playing a significant role in the resurgence of Buffalo, including high-profile projects on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus: Gates Vascular Institute, Multi Modal Transportation Structure and Health Sciences Charter School.

Congress temporarily authorized the EB-5 program more than 20 years ago. In return for making a minimum $500,000 investment into a new commercial enterprise that creates at least 10 full-time U.S. jobs (within two years) for each investor, the investor and his or her family may earn a green card and permanent residency status in the United States.

Lawmakers need to reauthorize EB-5 before it sunsets on Sept. 30. Passage would allow us to continue to create jobs and continue Buffalo Niagara’s economic resurgence.

Our projects on the Medical Campus and elsewhere demonstrate exactly what Congress intended the EB-5 program to do – create new U.S. jobs and spur economic development. Immigrants were among the earliest investors in the campus; they financed projects otherwise difficult to fund and their investments were augmented and compounded by other sources of capital. We plan that EB-5 capital will play no less a role in the future.

Fewer than 1 percent of all U.S. visas are in the EB-5 category. Investors face the same scrutiny as applicants in any other visa category, including background checks and national security screenings. EB-5 investment funds are subject to U.S. securities and anti-fraud laws and regulations.

Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chuck Grassley of Iowa have introduced legislation to reauthorize the program for five years and make improvements to it.

The minimum investment would be increased to $800,0000 for a targeted employment area, that, at the time of investment, is a rural area or an area experiencing unemployment of at least 150 percent of the national average. For non-targeted areas, the minimum investment would be raised from $1 million to $1.2 million.

A new economic impact study, commissioned by Invest In the USA, which advocates for EB-5 reauthorization, demonstrates how significant EB-5 investment is. In fiscal year 2013, the investor visa program contributed $3.58 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product and supported more than 41,000 jobs.

Lawmakers should reauthorize the program, making sure EB-5 capital remains a key feature of our region’s economic development tool kit, thus ensuring continuation of substantial benefits to the Western New York economy.

William Gresser is president of the EB-5 New York State Regional Center, which operates out of the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.