Promise of green cards lures investors in soccer stadium
The plan to raise more than $150 million to build Orlando's new soccer stadium is raising eyebrows.
The owners of the Orlando City Lions are looking to foreigners in an effort to raise the cash and they're offering something quite interesting in return.
The new soccer stadium will sit on Church Street in the heart of Parramore, a neighborhood that has a high unemployment rate. As a result, the project qualifies for a federal program that lets foreign investors help fund that stadium in exchange for getting themselves a green card. And the City Lions Soccer Club is taking full advantage.
A year ago, the team announced it would build the $156 million stadium with private funds. Now, the team's majority owner, Brazilian businessman Flavio Augusto Da Silva, hopes to raise half that money from foreign nationals willing to make a big dollar investment in exchange for a shot at a green card.
"A lot of people say this is buying a green card and that is absolutely incorrect," said Carlos Colombo, an immigration attorney.
Colombo is helping investors in the stadium navigate a federal immigration program referred to as "EB-5." It offers a green card, or permanent U.S. residency, to foreigners who invest $500,000 or more in a project that creates jobs in economically depressed areas such as Parramore, the location of the new stadium. The program has some critics in Congress who claim it has been abused and may open the U.S. up to national security vulnerabilities. But Colombo said fraud is unlikely because the program involves a lengthy vetting process with no guarantee their green card will come through.
"You must go through the steps, background checks, all the traditional steps you must go through, and it's a process that takes generally over a year. So it's not an immediate benefit that you obtain," Colombo said.
Colombo said so far, the soccer club has used EB-5 to raise $15 million for its new stadium. He said all of the foreign nationals who are investing are already living in Central Florida and if given a green card, they plan to stay in the area. More than half of them are from Brazil, as well as China and India.
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