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Chinese Investments Helping Fund Florida Charter Schools and Shrimp Farm

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The Immigrant Investor Program has helped fund a wide array
of commercial projects in the United States since it was established by an Act
of Congress about twenty years ago.  The
Program is designed to promote job creation and economic development in the U.S.
through foreign investment. 
Entrepreneurs from other countries qualify for permanent residency visas
(i.e., green cards) if the projects in which they invest lead to the creation
or preservation of 10 permanent full-time jobs. 
Ten thousand of these employment-based permanent visas are set aside
each year for foreign investors who meet the requirements of the Program.  Since this is the fifth category of
employment-based visa available to foreign nationals through the United States
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency, it is also commonly
referred to as an EB-5 visa.


There are two ways a foreign investor can get a green card
through the Immigrant Investor Program - by either investing $500,000 or
$1,000,000 in a commercial enterprise. 
If an immigrant entrepreneur wishes to invest $500,000 in a commercial
development, the project must be located in a Targeted Employment Area.  USCIS defines a Targeted Employment Area as a
rural area or an area experiencing 150% of the national unemployment rate.  On the other hand, a $1,000,000 investment
can be made in a commercial enterprise anywhere in the United States.  Either way, the business venture must
directly or indirectly create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs within
two years.  The job creation requirements
reflect Congress' hope that the Immigrant Investor Program would become an
engine of growth for the U.S. economy, particularly in certain hard-hit or undeveloped
areas of the country.


China's emergence as an economic power over the last decade
has led to the creation of a sizable class of wealthy entrepreneurs who are
looking to the EB-5 program as a way to secure green cards.  Most Chinese investors put their
money into an EB-5 Regional Center, an USCIS-approved commercial development that is usually led by teams of U.S.-based managers who oversee the project and ensure
it complies with the Program's requirements. 
Many EB-5 investment projects are commercial in nature, such as shopping
centers, hotels, restaurants, and other real estate-related concepts.  But the Immigrant Investor Program gives
"commercial enterprise" a broad meaning, which allows foreign entrepreneurs the
option of investing in diverse projects in a variety of industries and
sectors. 


For example, Florida's charter school system has received an
infusion of at least $30 million over the last few years from Chinese investors
through the EB-5 program.  Schools may
not be considered "commercial" in nature, but the Immigrant Investor Program is
flexible enough to allow immigrant investors to put money into projects that
can create jobs and promote and sustain growth, but are not businesses in the
traditional sense.  Apart from the
importance of educating America's youth, schools create jobs for teachers,
custodians, administrators, bus drivers, and others, as well as indirectly for
other businesses, such as fast-food restaurants, that will benefit from the
influx of new customers.  An official
from Florida expects another $90 million to come in from China next year.


In Central Florida, $6 million from Chinese investors has
been committed to an aquaculture project that will help create a sustainable
supply of shrimp, oysters and sea asparagus. 
While the produce from this 100-acre farm in Fellsmere, Florida, a town located
along the state's Atlantic coast about 90 miles north of Palm Beach, will be
sold initially to in-state markets only, an official from Florida Organic Aquaculture
says he understands the Chinese investors who are financing the project are
doing so in part to ensure a steady supply of shrimp and oysters for consumers
back home as well.  The Florida shrimp
farm will be a kind of trial run for future aquaculture projects in China. Over
thirty additional investors from China have signed on to the project, and if
their applications are approved, the farm will be fully funded when
construction begins in January.


The charter school and aquaculture projects are two of about
twenty EB-5 projects currently underway in Florida, and state officials are
taking steps to see that that number increases in coming years.

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