Congress is expected to vote Friday on extending a program that provides a pathway to citizenship for wealthy foreigners. The program is important because it's helping fuel some of the new growth in Buffalo and across the nation.
The federal government's EB-5 visa program was created over 25 years ago to attract new investment in the U.S. and create new jobs. In Targeted Employment Areas, like Buffalo, foreigners who invest $500,000 in a project that creates ten new jobs can earn a green card.
But it comes with considerable risk.
"If we can't actually prove the jobs were created two years after the investment is made, they'll lose their green card. So, it's interesting. It's not like we just project jobs will be created. We actually have to prove they were created afterwards," said Bill Gresser, President of EB-5 New York State. The local company uses funds raised overseas to loan to developers. Gresser says he often deals with just very hard working people.
"The elite are - they generally have other ways to come. This is for people who've made a nest egg and they want to pass on to their children the ability to live in the United States. The ability to have the benefits we have as another immigrant to our country," Gresser said.
Matthew Borowski, an immigration lawyer in Buffalo, says investors can also bring their dependents, including unmarried children under age 21. After five years in the U.S., Borowski says, they can gain citizenship if they're of good moral character and pass an English exam and a civics exam.
"Just like anybody else who immigrates to the U.S., if they meet those requirements, and they file the application and are willing to take the oath, they can become U.S. citizens," Borowski said.
Foreign investors, in the program, can live anywhere in the country and there are measures in place to keep out "dirty money."
"You can't just send a million dollars to the U.S. and invest it through the EB-5 program without documenting where the funds came from," Borowski said.
Gresser says, since 2011, his company has raised nearly $150 million for several local projects including the new Delaware North building downtown, and Kaleida Health's Gates Vascular Institute and the new John R. Oishei Children's Hospital.
Kaleida's Chief Financial Officer, Jonathan Swiatkowski, says financing hospital equipment through EB-5 saved Kaleida several hundred thousand dollars.
"With savings like this we're able to reinvest in care at the bedside," Swiatkowski said.
There are other benefits. Swiatkowski says Kaleida has been getting "significant exposure" because of the program.
"We've had individuals here from Asia, and from elsewhere, touring the campus, bringing our message of what we're doing here back around the world, furthering our mission to not only provide health care here to our community but to become a worldwide destination for the top level care that we provide," Swiatkowski said.
Gresser says the program is also a revenue generator.
"The moment these individuals get a green card, they're required to pay U.S. income tax on their worldwide income. So there's no cost to the U.S. government. It's new capital for the U.S. It must create new U.S. jobs and these individuals pay tax on their worldwide income. So there's huge benefits to the U.S. as a nation, but also locally, for the development that we're seeing and the jobs created here," Gresser said.
Over the past five years, Gresser says under EB-5, New York State's 300 foreign investors have helped create more than 3,000 jobs, mostly in construction and operations, primarily in Buffalo.