Building New Sources of Funding for the Nation’s Infrastructure13 Jul 2015, Posted in Blog Posts
It has been two years since The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) infamously slammed the quality of US infrastructure with a D+ grade. Transportation infrastructure – the highways, mass transit, aviation, water, and railways traversing the country – have traditionally received the majority of their funding from the public sector. In the 2014 fiscal year, this collective contribution of local, state, and federal funding totaled $279 billion. The ACSE estimated that restoring every crumbling road, bridge, and railway to an acceptable standard would require an investment of $3.6 trillion by 2020. If current spending trends persist, infrastructure funding will fall short of that goal by almost $2 trillion. With budget cuts already impacting the funds available to improve nationwide infrastructure projects, it is time to consider alternate sources of funding to improve the quality of the infrastructure that millions of people rely on every day.
One such source is the EB-5 Visa. The EB-5 Program allows foreign nationals and their immediate family to become lawful permanent residents of the United States by investing in a for-profit business in the US. This program had traditionally been implemented as a mode of domestic job creation. In the past several years, EB-5 investments have evolved as a significant contributor to the US economy, creating over 120,000 domestic jobs since the program’s enactment and contributing $3.58 billion to the United States’ GDP in 2013 alone.
At present, a minimum investment of $500,000 is required of business ventures in rural regions, or areas with unemployment exceeding the national average by 150%. Otherwise, the program requires a minimum input of $1 million. In either case, the investment must result in the direct or indirect creation of at least 10 full-time jobs, each lasting a minimum of 2 years. Eligible for-profit businesses include investments in a new commercial enterprise, a troubled business in which jobs will be preserved, or an enterprise, which will expand to 140% of pre-investment net worth or number of employees. EB-5 applicants must undergo the same extensive background checks required of other immigrants, and business plans must be pre-approved and include disclosure of risk and an economic impact report.
Although the EB-5 Program is still considered a temporary pilot program and is set to expire in September of this year, it has enjoyed renewal six times since its inception in 1990. The most recent reauthorization largely leaves the foundation of the EB-5 Regional Center Program untouched, but offers several light operational changes. Significant portions of the program’s modifications address fraud, including an increase in project oversight and expansion of Department of Homeland Security authority over the program. The 5-year renewal also raises the minimum investment to $800,000 and $1.2 million for TEA and non-TEA projects, respectively.
While EB-5 investments have excelled at financing the construction of commercial, healthcare, and residential structures, it has been an incredibly underutilized source of funding for building or maintaining transportation infrastructure. While a series of restraints govern the nature of the EB-5 investment, a loan to a private company, which plans to improve infrastructure, would be wholly accepted under the current law. EB-5 funds may also be used to support the creation of new technology, perhaps prolonging the life of existing infrastructure or significantly decreasing the production rates or costs for future materials. In the scope of long-term ventures, EB-5 applicants may also consider building toll roads and bridges, which provide a 20-year return on investment.
Considering that fewer than half of the 10,000 allotted EB-5 Visas were issued in 2014, private entities with an interest in constructing a reliable network of transportation infrastructure could see a huge benefit in turning their focus towards securing these underutilized EB-5 investments.
If the 5,075 EB-5 Visas that remain unused in 2014 had funded bridge, road, or rail projects, $2.5 to $5 billion would be currently at work securing the future of this nation’s transportation. If, instead, the investments had been applied to technological advancement, the threshold of $3.6 trillion dollars may have shed a few billion to be reduced to a more manageable value.
The bottom line is this: with infrastructure in America threatening widespread failure, there is no room for inaction. Resources exist through avenues like the EB-5 program; it’s just a matter of directing such funding towards the projects which, need it most.