Lee Leffingwell, Mayor of Austin, Texas, is hoping that his city will apply for the EB-5 immigration program. That USCIS program allows foreign nationals to live and stay in the US in exchange for investing in projects that create local full-time jobs. Leffingwell hopes that the city’s participation in the program will create green jobs by encouraging industries in renewable energy and clean technology.
To take part, the USCIS would need to designate Austin as an EB-5 Regional Center. Participation in the program means that non-US nations who invest $500,000 in specific government-approved programs would get US residency for themselves and their dependents. The investment money must stay in the project for a minimum of two years and the investment must create at least 10 full-time jobs. Government-approved projects for the EB-5 program in other cities have ranged from malls to restaurants to manufacturing facilities and more.
Currently, Texas has fourteen EB-5 Regional Centers and there are many more across the US. According to authorities, many of these programs have created thousands of jobs. For example, the Dallas program has reportedly raised $100 in investment money and has generated 2000 jobs.
The EB-5 program has been in place for more than two decades, but it is more recently that the program has expanded rapidly. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of regional centers has jumped from 11 to 218 across the country. However, the growth has not been without some problems. A number of accusations of fraud have been reported and some are upset that the program allows foreign nationals who may not meet other residency requirements to purchase residency in the US with investments. Authorities in Texas and Austin have stated that the EB-5 program can work well, especially for Austin, and that vetting processes will be in place to keep track of the money and its origins.
Leffingwell gave a news conference at Sol Austin to introduce the idea. Sol Austin is a development with energy efficient homes, a type of project that Leffingwell says he hopes Austin’s participation in the EB-5 program would encourage. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, State Sen. Kirk Watson, and State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez have all stated that they support Leffingwell’s plan.
In order for the project application to go forward, the City Council will need to authorize the city to file a USCIS application by passing a resolution. Leffingwell has stated that he will soon introduce the resolution to the council.