The company, founded by Terry McAuliffe, is now a top issue in this year’s Virginia race for governor. Until recently, the controversy over the company centered on the firm’s October 2009 decision to build a plant in Mississippi instead of Virginia. McAuliffe contended that he wanted to build a plant in Virginia, but the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) — the state’s business-recruitment agency — wouldn’t play ball.
“We had sites, we had meetings, and they chose that they weren’t going to bid on it,” McAuliffe declared. PolitiFact looked at the paperwork and rated that assertion false, concluding that “VEDP asked GreenTech to address its concerns and waited in vain for replies.”
But internal communications from VEDP now reveal that the state agency didn’t merely think that McAuliffe’s company had a risky business model. At least two high-ranking officials actually suspected that the company’s real aim was to make money by selling U.S. residency visas to wealthy foreigners.
In an e-mail dated November 17, 2009, Liz Povar, then the director of business development at VEDP, wrote to her colleagues:
Sandi et al. Even if the company has investors “lined up”, I maintain serious concerns about the establishment of an EB-5 center in general, and most specifically based on this company. Not only based on (lack of) management expertise, (lack of) market preparation, etc. but also still can’t get my head around this being anything other than a visa-for-sale scheme with potential national security implications that we have no way to confirm or discount. . . .
This “feels” like a national political play instead of a Virginia economic development opportunity. I am not willing to stake Virginia’s reputation on this at this juncture.
The e-mails were revealed pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by PolitiFact; 79 pages of documents were posted online in January.
Before the Mississippi Development Authority, a state agency, loaned GreenTech $5 million to help get started and buy the land for its production facility in that state, the company sought assistance and incentives from Virginia. High on its list of priorities was the establishment of a “Regional Center” to help attract foreign investors who would also be interested in obtaining an EB-5 U.S. residency visa.
Congress created the federal EB-5 program in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. To qualify, a foreigner must invest at least $1 million, or $500,000 in either a rural area or an area with high unemployment. The investment must “create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers within two years.” The government makes 10,000 EB-5 visas available each year, with 3,000 administered through Regional Centers, government-approved organizations that aim to help economic growth in a particular area. According to one advocate for the program quoted in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, three out of every four visa recipients come from China.
While the Regional Centers are not allowed to sell the U.S. visas, they are allowed to point out that investment in their projects may qualify a foreign citizen for a residence visa, and they may appear to suggest that one directly leads to the other. For example, at the top of the website for Gulf Coast Funds Management LLC, the Statue of Liberty’s torch is next to the slogan, “Invest in your future with EB-5.”