Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tampa City Council accepts report on EB-5 project, but its future remains unknown

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 10:52 AM

Charlie Miranda
  • Charlie Miranda
Today, the Tampa City Council called on its attorney to present a resolution in two weeks that would direct the Buckhorn administration to create an EB-5 regional center, an increasingly popular federal Immigrant Investor Program. Whether the city will go forward with it remains unknown, though Bob McDonough — the city's urban development manager — said the mayor and his staff are in the middle of studying various formats of the program.

The vote for the resolution was 4-2, with council members Charlie Miranda and Lisa Montelione dissenting.

The issue arose when a report — produced by a task force that was created to study the program — was delivered to Council members on Thursday. It was last fall when Councilwoman Yolie Capin introduced the EB-5 regional center program to her colleagues.

The EB-5 program has been around since 1990, but it's been in the past five years that more cities and states have started using it and expanding on it. The program allows foreigners to get green cards for themselves and their families if they invest at least $500,00 to create a minimum of 10 U.S. jobs through regional centers.

In a sense, the program allows foreigners to buy their way into the country, so it's often met with resistance — a resistance that appears to have melted away in recent years as local governments look for new and innovative ways to bring in developers to work on certain projects.

But the program has received a a black eye in recent months. McDonough mentioned problems with EB-5 that have surfaced in Chicago, Missouri and in California; two weeks ago, the developer with an EB-5 project in Chicago was charged with securities fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Immigration attorney William Flynn led the task force to study the possibilities of an EB-5 program in Tampa. When Councilwoman Lisa Montelione asked Flynn if he could explain what happened in Chicago, he said he only knew what he read in the press. Montelione paused, and said she assumed there had been a serious vetting of the investors. Flynn said the investors' source of funds is looked at in "excruciating" detail.

Chairman Charlie Miranda has been the most critical of the EB-5 program, saying there is a level of unfairness to the concept. He questioned why the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who might be on a pathway to citizenship, depending on immigration reform, have to "get in the back of the line," while those who can afford to pay their way through EB-5 can become citizens immediately.

Even though there is a quota for people from different countries to become citizens, foreigners who enter the country through the federal EB-5 program do not compete with them.

Miranda also voted against Capin's motion to direct the Buckhorn administration to move forward with an EB-5 center, saying that the mayor has been aware of such a program for six months and decided it wasn't worthy of acting upon.

Capin met with Buckhorn last week, and said that administration officials have warmed up to the possibility of the program after learning more about it since she first introduced the proposal back in September.

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