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MONEY

Clamoring for Foreign Capital

Start-ups stymied by traditional means of raising capital are turning to foreign investors seeking citizenship.

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When banks and angel investors fail to provide seed money, many new ventures are turning to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services' EB-5 program. The program gives foreign nationals who sink at least $500,000 into a business in a rural or depressed area a chance to gain permanent citizenship if they can create 10 jobs for Americans.

The program needs an extension to continue beyond this September, but the late July hearing before the Senate was "basically a lovefest" with approval on both sides of the immigration debate according to Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell University immigration law professor who testified at the hearing.

"Congress thinks it's a good program because it's what I call a win-win-win-win," he said, listing the benefactors as U.S. companies looking to expand, U.S. workers, the foreign investors, and taxpayers who get free economic invigoration. He expects the program will get at least a 3-5 year, if not a permanent, extension.

But the idea is not just gaining momentum on the Senate floor. There are currently 60 regional centers—companies, cities and states that receive USCIS approval to accept investments—with applications pending for 40 more. Additionally, the last two years have seen some of the highest numbers of foreign investors in over a decade.

Investors, have the option to take an active or passive role in their investments according to their entrepreneurial desires. Michael Crinion took the former course moving from Ireland to South Dakota to found Valley View Dairy. The business is still ramping up with the help of seven other EB-5 investors, and though Crinion has chosen a hands-on approach, he understands the appeal for his co-investors of getting citizenship "without having to take on all the headaches of running their own business."

However, Yale-Loehr cautions that businesses shouldn't view the EB-5 program as a "holy grail" for finding easy overseas money. It can be challenging for companies in the program to attract an investor, and it is equally as challenging to create the necessary number of new jobs once they have an investor. "It's not for everyone," he said. "It's relatively easy to set up a regional center, but it's hard to run one successfully."

Last updated: Aug 10, 2009




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