Opinion

EB-5: Green cards talk, just like money | Mirror editorial

Developers of a proposed 45-story tower in Federal Way are banking on an “immigration through investment” opportunity.

Seattle-based Twin Development announced plans to build Sky Hotel and Residences, slated to break ground in 2011 and become Federal Way’s tallest building. The project will include 400 condominiums, 120 three-star hotel units, a conference area, day spa, retail, restaurants, public plaza and more. A partner in the project includes Korean-American businessman Luke Hwang of Federal Way.

Behind the scenes of this lucrative development is the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program and the city’s federal designation as a “regional center.” Foreign investors who pump at least $1 million into the area, and help create at least 10 new Federal Way jobs, are granted permanent U.S. residential status for two years. Their spouses and unmarried children are also eligible for a visa. The $1 million minimum could be lowered depending on additional criteria.

The condos are expected to sell for about $500,000. Several local leaders call the project an economic step forward for Federal Way.

The trend has caught on elsewhere. A marketing representative for a developer on Madison Avenue described a similar situation with one Florida project that courted Canadian investors — and raked in millions of dollars. He casually remarked that the Federal Way development, with a price tag of $225 million, could easily attract 200 foreign investors.

Wealthy residents from Asia often buy second homes in the Puget Sound region. The development makes a competitor out of Federal Way, which has an Asian population exceeding 12 percent of the city’s nearly 90,000 residents.

In the past, immigrants could gain a green card by traveling to the U.S. and setting up their own business. The EB-5 program allows them to invest in a business and economic growth without having to own or operate the business. Some liken the process to buying a share of stock.

This is certainly a win-win situation for both investors and Federal Way’s economy. The arrangement also reiterates that everything is for sale in America, including residency. Permanent residents must still gain official U.S. citizenship in order to vote or access certain public benefits. However, the EB-5 program demonstrates a willingness to loosen residency and immigration requirements — if the price is right.

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