WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation Thursday to make permanent the charter for a successful, job-creating immigrant visa program that has brought economic development and job growth to Vermont since 1997.

After months of negotiation, the legislation introduced Thursday by Leahy will grant a permanent authorization to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center program. Vermont’s Regional Center has been a successful private-public partnership between the State of Vermont and several Vermont businesses. The bill introduced Thursday will also extend the voluntary E-Verify program, as well as two visa programs for religious workers and the so-called “Conrad 30,” or rural doctors, visa. The bill is co-sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

“Vermont has been a model for the success of the EB-5 Regional Center Program, and I want to see that great success continue for Vermonters, and those who wish to pursue business opportunities in our great state” said Leahy. “I am grateful that Senator Grassley has worked with me to craft this legislation, and I am optimistic its introduction marks the beginning of a strong bipartisan effort to make these long-standing programs permanent. When enacted, the measure we introduce today will also pave the way for my efforts to improve and build upon the EB-5 Regional Center Program to ensure stability for investors and entrepreneurs, and to ensure that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has the tools it needs to keep this program a strong, secure, and vital part of our economy.”

Leahy has successfully steered short-term extensions of the pilot program through Congress. The current authorization will expire in September 2012. Earlier this week, Leahy secured a three year extension of the programs during the Appropriations Committee’s consideration of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill.

Vermont’s Regional Center was re-chartered in 2007. Two Vermont ski resorts, Jay Peak and Sugarbush, are active participants in the Regional Center pilot program and have been engaged in ambitious development projects. Other capital investment projects are in the works around the state. Vermont’s Regional Center projects have drawn business and tourism to the state, fueling local economies and creating jobs.

Since it was created in 1993, the regional center program has attracted more than a billion dollars in foreign investment to the United States, and created thousands of new domestic jobs – hundreds, in Vermont. There are now over 220 Regional Centers across the country, with new applications pending.

The Regional Center program attracts foreign investors seeking legal permanent residency and a chance to invest in the American economy. Investors must pledge a minimum of $500,000 to a project within an approved regional center and independently apply for an EB-5 visa. If approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), foreign investors are granted a conditional two-year green card. After two years, the investor must provide proof that they have created at least ten jobs as a result of the investment and have met additional investment requirements set by USCIS. As a result of the program’s popularity, additional applications are pending with USCIS to establish new Regional Centers in several states.

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