Job-Creating Visas

Pic1One of the best-kept secrets of the contentious national debate on immigration is that most of the politicians mouthing off about this “crisis” agree there’s one type of immigrant who should speed through the E-Z Pass lane into the United States: the folks who have cash to invest in business startups.

The EB-5 “immigrant investor” visa has been quietly fueling the creation of new jobs for nearly 25 years. A good example can be found this month in Newport, VT, where ground recently was broken for a $100-million biotech startup funded by immigrant moolah offered up to qualify for EB-5 visas.

AnC Bio Vermont’s new 85,000-square-foot facility will feature a clean room that meets FDA standards, according to a report in Vermont Business Magazine. The facility will be used for stem cell research and bio-medical device manufacturing, offering certified testing and manufacturing services to bio/pharma companies throughout the industry who are developing stem-cell related products. The stem-cell market currently is valued at about $1.4 billion, but it is expected to grow into a $160-billion industry by 2030.

The debt-free, state-of-the-art AnC Bio facility will take about 18 months to build. It’s scheduled to open in 2016 and employ up to 450 people when fully operational.

The prime mover in the AnC Bio project is a development group headed by Bill Stenger, president of Jay Peak Resort, a popular Vermont destination. In his spare time, Stenger and his partners have been raising EB-5 funding for nearly $600-million worth of projects in Vermont, including expansions at Jay Peak and nearby Burke Mountain, and a new hotel and airport upgrade in Newport, VBM reports.

AnC Bio is the group’s first venture into the biotech sector. According to the magazine, Stenger and his pals already have raised $90 million to finance the new bio-med facility. Stenger is preparing to fly to the Middle East and Africa to find investors to provide the last $10 million–investors who may be able to join him on the return flight to the U.S. since they’ll qualify for EB-5 visas.

The federal EB-5 program has been administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) since its creation by Congress in 1990. Under a pilot program enacted in 1992 and regularly reauthorized since, special EB-5 visas are set aside for immigrant investors, distributed through Regional Centers designated by USCIS based on proposals for promoting economic growth.

Immigrant investors are required to invest at least $1 million in a project in the U.S. to qualify for the special visa; the amount is reduced to $500,000 if the investment is made in a location the government has identified as a Targeted Employment Area (an area with high unemployment or a rural area; a rural area is defined as any area outside an established MSA or outside the boundary of any city or town have a population of 20,000 or more). The investment also must create at least 10 new full-time jobs for U.S. workers in order for the investor to qualify for the EB-5 visa.

In the upcoming presidential primary debates, no doubt several candidates will offer dueling proposals to restrict the flow of immigrants into the U.S., which will be characterized by some as a bad, bad thing. It will be interesting to see if any of them point out that the good folks in Vermont–and many other places–are growing a new industry and new jobs by growing the number of immigrants.