By Congressman Jared Polis and Congressman Mark Amodei
The EB-5 investor visa program is a proven job creator for the United States. Members of Congress see the benefits that EB-5 investment can bring to local communities, and those economic benefits are exactly why there is such a diverse group of supporters in Congress. Extending the EB-5 deadline into 2016 was vital, as failure to reauthorize this successful job creation and investment program would have been a terrible economic mistake. This short-term extension, however, represents a missed opportunity. EB-5 needs a long-term, multi-year reauthorization, and the sooner we can get there, the better. Looking forward, while we are confident that the EB-5 program is here to stay, it is too early to say what the program will look like beyond next year.
As strong supporters of the program at the center of the discussion in Congress, we have our own idea about what EB-5 needs, which is why we introduced our own piece bipartisan legislation in January 2015. H.R. 616, first and foremost, is a permanent reauthorization of the program, because we believe certainty is an important item to making EB-5 work. It addresses the issue of backlog and wait times, makes needed updates to integrity measures, and keeps the power of designation target employment areas at the local level. We have made it no secret that we think this legislation is the best path forward for EB-5.
At the same time, having not been born yesterday, we both understand that the process of passing laws is slightly more complicated than just declaring your idea the best and having everyone agree. There are many stakeholders that have an interest in the EB-5 program, and some of these stakeholders hold very senior positions in both the House and Senate. Many have proposed reforms, either by formally introducing bills or through informal negotiations. Some of these proposed reforms we agree with and some we do not. But throughout this process, we have negotiated in good faith, making our priorities clear and all the while understanding that the key to a long-term reauthorization is broad-based consensus in Congress. At a number of points this fall, it seemed as if consensus was on the horizon. We are optimistic that the New Year will bring it into sight once again.
Consensus on the path forward for EB-5 should focus on a few key issues. First, reauthorization should include reforms that reinforce national security safeguards and lessen investment fraud without interfering with the successes of the program. As outlined by an August 12, 2015 Government Accountability Office report, there are a number of important steps that Congress should take. Largely, we agree with these recommendations. A reauthorization without these measures would be a missed opportunity. There is bipartisan agreement on these fraud and security provisions, and these reforms should form the core of any reauthorization.
Next, any reauthorization measure should continue a program precedent of allowing both urban and rural projects to compete on their merits in the marketplace. This approach would be consistent with the current application of the program, which has served as a catalyst of job creation in a diverse range of communities. As the program stands now, worthy projects have been beneficiaries of investment in a wide range of communities from coast to coast. In rural, suburban, and urban communities, each of which has unique investment needs, there have been successful EB-5 projects. Efforts to needlessly “tilt” the program towards one particular type of project would discourage competition and, ultimately, the competiveness and effectiveness of the entire program.
We acknowledge that there currently exist many different proposals on this particular portion of the legislation, but there is bipartisan support for finding an equitable solution that preserves market competition and ensures that diverse communities will continue to be served by the EB-5 program. For instance, we feel that proposals that take into account existing worker commuting patterns have great value. For many business plans, it would be a relatively low burden to prove that workers were in fact coming from a neighboring community.
Another item that should be included in discussions of reform are strategies to seriously address the issue of visa backlog. The fact that there is a six-year backlog right now is unacceptable. If you are a possible investor today and you look at your options to immigrate via EB-5 or other programs, and compare those with available options for other foreign investor visa programs, EB-5 may in fact have the longest wait time from initial application to permanent residence. Or, if you want to look at it from a policymaker’s perspective, a six-year backlog means that many reforms you might pass in a five-year authorization might never actually take effect.
In H.R. 616, we propose exempting spouses and children from EB-5 admission limits. This is just one proposal for reducing the backlog. Political considerations make addressing the backlog hard in this Congress, but it would be a missed opportunity to not at least look for a legislative fix.
These reforms should form the bulk of a reauthorization effort. Other reforms, including efforts to address processing times by creating a premium processing mechanism, and encouraging USCIS to build capacity so that it can work with more complex business plans, would be worthy additions to any reauthorization legislation.
The EB-5 program presents an opportunity to take bipartisan action and improve an already successful job-creation and investment program. We will continue to urge Congress to bring forth a long-term reauthorization measure that protects against fraud and abuse but also ensures market competition. We look forward to continuing to work with you on achieving this goal in the coming year.
Congressman Jared Polis represents Colorado’s Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives. At home in Colorado, Rep. Polis initially won elected office when voters selected him for a seat on the Colorado State Board of Education in 2000, on which he served for six years including as vice-chairman and chairman. In Congress, Rep. Polis has become a recognized leader on school reform, as well as immigration, civil rights, the environment and tech issues. First elected to represent Colorado’s Second Congressional District in 2008, Rep. Polis serves on the Committee on Rules, the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. He is also co-chair of the New Democrat Coalition Immigration Task Force.
Congressman Mark Amodei represents Nevada’s Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives. A native of Carson City, Nev., Rep. Amodei served in the Nevada state assembly and the Nevada state senate for over a decade, including two years as president pro tempore of the Nevada state senate. Elected to represent Nevada’s Second Congressional District in 2011, Rep. Amodei serves on the Committee on Appropriations.