UPDATE AUG. 20: The Board of Supervisors today unanimously agreed to seek a congressional inquiry into why it's taking so long for a federal agency to process applications that pave the way for immigrant investors to set up businesses in the U.S. -- especially Riverside County.
"We have a federal bureaucracy that is impeding the creation of jobs here," Supervisor Jeff Stone said. "People are waiting with suitcases of money to invest."
Stone and Supervisor Marion Ashley gained the support of their board colleagues to submit a formal letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., asking him to investigate "the conduct" of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In the same 5-0 vote, the board directed the county's Washington, D.C., lobbyists to press the case for change at the USCIS with Southern California congressional representatives.
"This is about jobs," Ashley said. "It is about bringing more money into the county, attracting more (foreign) investment."
At issue is the establishment of EB-5 regional centers, which are private entities that receive federal charters to operate. The centers, 58 of which are in Riverside County, provide work visas for wealthy foreign investors willing to commit funding for existing or start-up enterprises that contribute to increased employment.
"EB-5 regional centers, their owners and investors have contributed greatly to the county and her cities during the Great Recession and have been a major source of job creation and investment," according to a statement submitted by Ashley and Stone for the board's consideration.
In May, Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, Duncan Hunter, R-Temecula, Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Springs, and Mark Takano, D-Riverside, jointly penned a letter to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, asking him to address issues they alleged were stymieing efforts to establish EB-5 regional centers in Riverside County.
"These issues include a lack of customer service and communication, in addition to lengthy wait times for the approval of new ... centers," the congressmen's letter says.
They quoted county government officials, who complained that "calls and emails to the USCIS ombudsman are not returned, and emails to employees regarding status updates on applications are ignored."
The congressmen said the lack of agency responsiveness was damaging investor confidence and preventing job growth.
USCIS Press Secretary Chris Bentley told City News Service at the time that it can take up to a year for an application to establish an EB-5 regional center to be processed.
"We have to adjudicate each case. There's a lot of detailed information that has to be reviewed," Bentley said.
Riverside County's EB-5 program was inaugurated in 2009. There are more than 240 EB-5 centers throughout the nation. Since 1990, when Congress authorized the program, the centers have facilitated the issuance of more than 13,300 work visas, or "green cards," for affluent immigrants.
According to USCIS data, between 1990 and 2012, $6.8 billion was invested, contributing to the creation of an estimated 49,000 jobs.
"The EB-5 regional centers fund business and government projects alike," Riverside County Foreign Trade Commissioner Tom Freeman said.
Under the EB-5 program, visa recipients must commit $1 million to start a new business, expand an existing one or buy one that's struggling but is salvageable. The invested funds must be directly or indirectly tied to the creation of at least 10 jobs.
In areas where the unemployment rate exceeds the national average by 150 percent, foreign entrepreneurs need only invest $500,000 to qualify for a conditional visa, according to federal officials.
Not everyone was supportive of the board's action.
Meadowbrook resident Gary Grant, a Scottish immigrant who came to America with his family more than 40 years ago, said he was worried that "inviting people from overseas" to settle in the U.S. in exchange for money would make them less likely to appreciate the country and its values.
"People come here without due concern or consideration of the Constitution," Grant told the board. "We the citizens do not want foreigners coming in here and taking over."
Stone responded that the EB-5 program was about "economic stimulus," not undermining native interests. --City News Service