U.S. Approves Regional Investment Visa Center For CNMI

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Program hoped to be ‘route to citizenship,’ governor says

By Ferdie de la Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 10, 2013) – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has approved the first EB-5 Regional Center in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a program where foreign nationals may invest in the center to obtain lawful permanent residency in the United States or "green cards."

"This is really going to revolutionize the CNMI economy," said Gov. Benigno R. Fitial during yesterday's briefing in which he announced that Triple J's Marianas EB-5 Regional Center LLC is the first of three applicants in the CNMI to get approval from USCIS.

Fitial said there are potential investors, mostly from China, who have been waiting for this opportunity to come to the CNMI to invest. At the same time, the governor said, these potential investors are looking for U.S. citizenship.

"This [investment visa program] is a route to U.S. citizenship," Fitial said.

Robert "Bob" Jones, principal of Marianas EB-5 Regional Center LLC, disclosed that they received Tuesday the notice from USCIS that their application for an EB-5 Regional Center for the CNMI has been approved.

Jones said that Juan Carlos Benitez, who owns Washington Economic Development Group, is his partner in the center.

"When you make an application for an EB-5, in order to get it expedited you need to have a project with it in order to get the Regional Center approved," Jones said.

He said they submitted the Regional Center project of Surfrider Resort Spa & Beach Club, a 60 to 100-hotel room set to rise in Chalan Kanoa. Construction of Surfrider Resort is this month and its final phase completion is expected in June 2015.

Jones said Triple J will put the Surfrider Resort project through the Marianas EB-5 Regional Center. A minimum of eight investors and a maximum of 12 investors are estimated, each contributing $500,000 in capital for the project.

He said foreign investors have to follow rigorous regulations and keep 10 people employed for two years in order to get their "green cards."

Jones said investors could come in and invest $500,000 in the Surfrider Resort project and they would be able to start this application process toward getting "green cards."

"We have a number of Chinese investors now that have expressed interest in investing in our project already. We could not entertain them because we haven't been approved. Now that we've been approved, we can start talking to them," he said.

Saipan Surfrider's Mike Sablan said the EB-5 Regional Center is very popular in the United States, with just 11 centers in 2007 and now 245 centers in 2012.

"This has become a very popular mode for economic development throughout the country," Sablan said, adding that because of the weak economic situation in the U.S., developers need financing from the international market.

To obtain the visa, a minimum of $1 million capital investment is required in a new commercial enterprise that results in the creation of 10 new jobs.

In certain "targeted employment areas" such as the CNMI, the minimum investment is $500,000.

Sablan said the Regional Center pilot program was supposed to end in September 2012, but this was extended for three years or until 2015.

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