Tampa City Council approves task force to study EB-5 program

One of the two council members who voted no was Lisa Montelione. She expressed several reservations, beginning with the fact that the group will be meeting privately. That is allowed as long as the task force comes back to the council with facts, and not a recommendation, per se. But Montelione said that in effect, the task force would be providing a recommendation.

She also noted that Oscar Horton from Sun State International Trucks was selected to the task force upon a recommendation from councilman Frank Reddick. Clarifying it was nothing personal toward Reddick, Montelione said she thought that council members weren't allowed to choose their own representatives.

Reddick responded that there was a call for diversity on the panel, which is why he recommended Horton, who is African-American. However, state Rep. Betty Reed, who is African-American, was also selected. Reddick questioned her position on the force, wondering about her credentials regarding international trade.

After attorney William Flynn said he didn't have a cap for the number of people on the committee, Councilwoman Mary Mulhern suggested that the board go ahead and support the creation of the task force, and contact Flynn if it wanted to add members.

"Let's just get this going forward. They're trying to study something that's great for Tampa. And let's let them do that," she said.

Before they voted, Council Chair Charlie Miranda voiced his displeasure with the idea, asking Bob McDonough — the city's Urban Development Manager — if any individuals in Tampa are using EB-5, but not under the city's name?

"My opposition to this is I don't want to use the city name because basically this is a lot of real estate investment, and as you and I know not 100 percent of all real estate deals go well," the Council Chair said.

Miranda also has issues with the nature of the program, which allows foreigners to essentially buy their way into the county for $500,000 or $1 million. Of the 10,000 EB-5 green cards available each year in the U.S., 3,000 are reserved for foreign nationals who invest through a Regional Center.

"To use the name, to perpetuate individuals to come to this country with a green card that still hasn't been thoroughly explained to the public — I don't know if it's one green card per person or one green card per family or they want to send somebody to Harvard or Yale, I don't know how it goes — and takes somebody's else slot, then that's what it is. The way that it works. But I'm not going to go into what I think. It's what the facts are," he said.

Today, the Tampa City Council approved (with a 5-2 vote) a task force that will study the pros and cons of establishing an EB-5 "Regional Center." The group will be led by local immigration attorney William Flynn.

EB-5 is also known as the Immigrant Investor Program. It was created by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in 1990 to encourage immigrants to develop businesses and create jobs in the U.S. It's currently used in cities like Dallas and Miami. Investors who can pay their way into getting a green card do not become permanent citizens unless each investment creates at least 10 new full-time jobs for legal U.S. residents by the end of two years.

Miami's relative success with an EB-5 Regional Center is what recently inspired City Councilwoman Yolie Capin to look into the program, bringing the idea to the board.

Tampa's new task force will study whether the city should create a Regional Center, which would cost about $300,000. But as was the case when presented to the council earlier this month, there's tension around the issue.

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