Help build a rail line to Rochester, get a green card

A private firm that wants to build a high-speed rail link from the Twin Cities to Rochester, Minn., and on to Chicago is considering using the country’s immigration laws to make it happen.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin says the North American High Speed Rail Group is seeking wealthy foreign investors who want a green card.

Under current rules, immigrants who are willing to invest a minimum of $500,000 are eligible to receive a two-year conditional green card, the PB says. The immigrant would get a full green card after two years if at least 10 jobs are created.

“It is a small portion of the financial package, but it allows us to diversify our sources of investment and, of course, this project would create numerous jobs in Minnesota,” rail group spokeswoman Wendy Meadley told the paper.

The PB extracted the information only after making a data practices records request to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

It turns out key leaders in the North American High Speed Rail Group are also behind a new EB-5 regional center. Rail group CEO Joe Sperber and Chairman Joseph Wang are co-owners of Liberty Minnesota Regional Center, which won approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in April. These centers sponsor economic development projects people can invest in via the EB-5 program.

Interest in the EB-5 program has exploded since the great recession, according to Laura Danielson, an immigration lawyer at Twin Cities-based Fredriksson & Byron, P.A.

“It really kicked into gear with the economic downfall and the traditional sources of money started to dry up and a lot of developers started looking at alternative sources like this,” Danielson said.

The program was established in 1990 and operated in relative obscurity for many years. Today, there are nearly 700 EB-5 regional centers that have been approved by the federal government. Danielson said the vast majority of the money comes from Chinese investors, thanks in large part to skyrocketing real estate prices in that country and a desire for children to be educated in the U.S.

While EB-5 can be an extremely successful financing tool, the major challenge for developers is to put forward a project that stands out and will attract EB-5 investments, given the competitive marketplace.

The rail group, which wants to build the line with private funds, has its eye on Chinese investors.

“The whole idea of the Chinese government being involved in major transportation arteries throughout southern Minnesota is troubling. China is a communist government, the last time I checked,” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said.