Atlanta searches for foreign investors, offers U.S. visas

By Maggie Lee

Atlanta’s long offered sweeteners for big developments, like tax breaks or grants. Now the city’s development authority is offering something to folks who bring money to the table: legal U.S. residency.

Invest Atlanta is looking for people outside the United States who might be interested in joining the federal government’s EB-5 program. That offers investors, their spouses and their unmarried children under the age of 21 a path to permanent residency — in exchange for investing as little as $500,000 in U.S. projects.

“It really is a way to spur development into your city, it’s foreign direct invest investment. It’s money from outside that comes into your economy. It’s the best type of investment,” said Eloisa Klementich, president and CEO of IA, speaking at the agency’s headquarters Downtown just after a Thursday board committee meeting.

A photo of the Invest Atlanta logo on a wall

Invest Atlanta, the city’s development authority, is looking to find foreign nationals who will invest in Atlanta developments in exchange for U.S. residency. File/Credit: Maggie Lee

“The investor likes this program because they get the immigration status benefit from the United States,” she said. “Our role is to specifically to find projects that we can potentially use those funds for.”

It’s up to the federal government, not IA, to check that the investor is good for the cash, got the cash legally and is not a security risk. The feds are the ones who eventually hand out the visa.

For developers, it can be possible to get cash fairly cheaply when investors are more interested in the green card than bargaining hard for a return on their greenbacks.

Under federal law, the foreign investors must invest in a new or troubled commercial enterprise that creates or preserves at least 10 jobs. The minimum investment is $1,000,000, unless it’s a rural area or an area with especially high unemployment. Then the minimum is $500,000.

Invest Atlanta is one of about 33 Georgia entities that has been sanctioned by the federal government as a sort of matchmaker between investors and projects.

Last October, IA announced it was accepting applications from developers in search of cash, and that projects would need to create at least 100 jobs to be viable candidates to tap loans from pooled foreign funds.

The agency tapped the brakes a bit amid news earlier this year that the federal law might be allowed to expire. A nonpartisan official federal review in 2016 found that the program is susceptible to fraud — for example by unscrupulous U.S. matchmakers or by investors masking dubious sources of wealth. The report also said voluminous paperwork necessary from the investors makes it difficult to vet them.

But the law has been extended through at least the end of September and could still continue after that.

IA is wortking through a list of developers who are potentially interested in the foreign cash. The agency is in early talks with developers of at least two projects: the proposed Pullman Yard rework into a mixed-use development, and a hotel proposed near the Georgia World Congress Center.

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