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Immigrants invest in U.S. businesses in exchange for visas

Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor at Cornell University's law school and executive director of a trade association of regional centers, said the number of EB-5 visas being granted falls well short of the maximum 10,000 allowed each year.

"There's a lot more that we could be doing to promote the EB-5 program so that it can achieve its true potential in this economic recession," he said.

Bipartisan support

Powerful members of Congress on both sides of the aisle agree. In a rare bipartisan convergence on an immigration issue, Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member, recently joined forces in an effort to make the regional centers permanent. (The centers were established under a pilot program that has been extended several times since the 1990s).

Leahy said he was impressed by the millions of dollars that EB-5 visa holders have invested in ski resorts such as Jay Peak and other projects in the distressed northeastern region of Vermont.

Because of legislative wrangling unrelated to the EB-5 program, Leahy had to settle for a three-year extension in the fiscal 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations bill adopted in the fall.

Still, Leahy predicted that not only will all aspects of the program soon be made permanent but also that the annual number of visas might be increased.

"Once it's permanent, I think we're really going to see the true value of this," he said. "At a time when we're seeing so many of our jobs exported out of the country, this creates jobs in the United States."

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