The City of Austin, Texas, has recently created a panel of citizens to attract overseas investment into sustainable projects, all in an effort to generate local green jobs through the EB-5 visa program.

The EB-5 program was created by Congress in 1990, and provides US green cards to those high net worth foreign investors who invest substantial amounts of capital ($1 million or $500,000 if invested into a "Targeted Employment Area") into a new enterprise that creates a minimum of 10 permanent full-time jobs for US citizens.  While the EB-5 visa category has been in effect since 1992, Austin is looking to be the first city in the country to utilize these investment funds primarily for affordable housing, clean energy, and green jobs created through sustainable projects.

The Citizen Panel on Sustainable Development will be working to either establish a Regional Center sponsored by the City of Austin or partner with an existing center. The Regional Center designation is one made by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and is given to projects or programs (either privately run or sponsored by the government) approved for
receipt of EB-5 investment capital.

In order to qualify as a Regional Center, the panel will have to submit a proposal to the USCIS showing 1) how they will achieve the required economic growth within the regional area, 2) that the business plan is viable, 3) how jobs will be created either directly or indirectly, and 4) the amount and source of capital acquired for the project, and the promotional efforts planned for its future success.

While Austin recognizes the potential for economic growth and development by establishing or partnering with a Regional Center, there are also some advantages for the foreign entrepreneurs investing in these economic units, as opposed to the more traditional EB-5 investment vehicle for gaining green cards in the US. First, Regional Centers are organizations that help manage the projects that receive the investor's capital, and they help to ensure compliance with USCIS requirements. Second, Regional Centers also have the benefit of a less stringent job creation requirement that allows for indirect, as well as, direct job creation, while the traditional EB-5
investment vehicle can only satisfy the job creation requirement by creating jobs directly.  Since receipt of permanent residence status for the investor and his dependents is contingent on meeting all of USCIS requirements, the Regional Center option is often preferred by foreign entrepreneurs looking to obtain US green cards. 

Austin's Citizen Panel is hoping to attract these foreign investors to their city. A combination of private citizens and government officials including the Mayor of Austin, a Congressman, and a number of local business leaders, the panel is also charged with establishing the criteria for eligible sustainable or green projects in the city.  Hoping to focus on clean energy, affordable housing and environmentally responsible businesses, the panel's first meeting will take place in the next few weeks.