Sara K. Clarke, Orlando Sentinel, January 28, 2009
Condominium hotels were among the first real-estate investments to go sour as the housing market slumped and, later, the credit markets seized up. But Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa is hoping the lure of permanent U.S. residency will eventually persuade well-heeled foreign investors to help it expand near Walt Disney World.
The condo-hotel resort received government approval several months ago to serve as a “regional center” for foreign investment. Under federal immigration policy, an approved foreigner whose investment is supposed to create 10 full-time jobs in the U.S. can get a conditional visa to live here–and can ultimately secure a regular “green card” good for permanent residency.
The Lake Buena Vista resort is one of only about 35 such centers for EB-5 visas in the country–and the first one not in a rural or high-unemployment setting.
So far, it has no takers for its million-dollar-visa offer. The recession and global financial turmoil have taken “a bit of a bite” from the program’s potential, said Larry Behar, an immigration lawyer working on the project.
The local EB-5 visa offer works like this: A foreign investor pays $1 million for a stake in a limited-liability corporation that owns 70 of the resort’s condo-hotel units. The investor has to have the cash on hand and has to be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which can investigate the source of the person’s money. In return, the investor gets a conditional visa–as well as conditional green cards for immediate family members.
‘The perfect complement’
“With the tremendous need for economic stimulus that we’re hearing about every day, it’s the perfect complement,” said Sam Sutton, Lake Buena Vista Resort’s developer. “One of the best aspects of the program is that it is an all-cash purchase.”
The investor eventually has to prove to the government that the chosen investment did, in fact, create 10 jobs, either directly or indirectly, in areas such as hospitality, food service and building maintenance. If he or she can’t do that after two years, the conditional green cards can be revoked. But if the jobs do exist at that point, the investor can apply for permanent green-card status.
One thing the Lake Buena Vista Resort Village has going for it is the backing of local politicians and economic-development officials.
Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic-development agency, said the project has “enormous potential to stimulate job creation.” And direct foreign investment is a goal of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, which views the resort’s visa program as a win-win for Orlando.