By: Ismael Rodriguez
The U.S. Congress considers not renewing a federal investor program that has help fund South Florida business projects over the past decade by exchanging U.S. visas and green cards for foreign dollars.
The EB-5 visa program, which has poured an estimated $18 billion in overseas cash into U.S. business development since 2008, will expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress votes otherwise.
In South Florida, the expiration of this immigration investment program can, significantly, hinder ongoing projects like Florida East Coast Industries’ long-awaited Brightline MiamiCentral, the mixed-use downtown Miami station for the upcoming All Aboard Florida passenger rail service that connects Miami to Orlando, which has $130 million in EB-5 funds to complete the plaza’s 180,000-square-foot retail component.
SkyRise Miami, the picturesque 1,000-foot skyscraper/tourist attraction scheduled by developer Jeff Berkowitz to launch in 2020, also has EB-5 funds entwined among its $430 million budget.
But despite the proven success of the program, congressional critics who lobby against the EB-5 program wish to completely eliminate it from existence. In order to stand a chance, the program must compete for attention with the federal budget, President Trump’s proposed tax-reform and other prioritized items with upcoming deadlines.
These same critics believe the EB-5 program is a needless subsidy to wealth developers, and an easy target for manipulation and corruption despite the programs proven track record.
From commercial establishments to giant train lines, EB-5 funds have propelled economic development and local businesses in South Florida and elsewhere within the U.S. at a rapid rate. In Florida, for example, EB-5 investment throughout the state skyrocketed from $10,500,000 million in 2011 to $150,500,000 in the fiscal year 2013, according to the latest figures available from the industry trade organization Invest in the USA.
There are few statistics that accurately measure the precise impact of the EB-5 because government officials seldom keep statistics on the program. Not enough material exists to document how many projects have succeeded, how many failed, or how many jobs have been created.
But Invest in the USA has, indeed, been able to gather data that shows the total gross domestic product contributed to Florida by EB-5 projects grew from $15 million to $179 million, not to mention that state and local tax revenue spiked up from $858,822 to $10,918,299.