EB-5 train wreck in Vermont

In his first year in office, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin flew in 2011 to Miami to promote a real estate / business project funded by so-called EB-5 investors. On April 8 of this year, according to the Vermont Digger, Shumlin’s general counsel asked the state’s tech department to delete “all archived email” for five people who worked in the governor’s office prior to January 2013 and were associated with this project. The employees included the governor’s former campaign manager and top aide and former chief of staff.

Here is what we know now about the biggest scandal in Vermont for years. Much of this information is found in reportage by the Vermont Digger, a non-profit daily news service.

What is EB-5?

Congress created the EB-5 program to stimulate investment in geographic areas needing development funds. Foreign nationals can earn green cards when they invest one million dollars and create or preserve 10 jobs. If they invest in a so-called Targeted Employment Areas (TEA), they need only invest $500,000 and create 10 new jobs to earn green cards. The program was stalled for many years in part due to Washington bureaucracy, but in the late 2000s, with some revisions in regulation, it took off. The Bookings Institute, which published a study in 2014, reported that during the 2010-2012 period, on average, 13% of immigrants and their family members were admitted under employment-based preferences. And of these employment-based visas 3% were for EB-5 visa investors and their immediate family members. This sums roughly to well under a legal limit of 10,000 EB-5-related visas a year.

According to Brookings, So far, EB-5 financing has been used for projects that include large commercial-property developments, assisted-living facilities, and manufacturing plants. (See the Brookings report here.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy has been the leading advocate of the EB-5 program in the Senate. He has allied with Senator Charles Grassley to renew the EB-5 program with reformed rules. The renewal date was supposed to be in September 15, 2015 but has been pushed off into 2016.

Why is it controversial?

A Washington Post editorial on Sept 5, 2015 said that the program is a “flop.” “It’s corporate welfare, enabling certain businesses to attract capital more cheaply than others based on a government-conferred sweetener — namely, a visa. Perhaps inevitably, the EB-5 has channeled funding to areas such as hotel ventures that suit the needs of EB-5 seekers and their myriad highly paid consultants — but not necessarily those of local communities.”

The editorial did to point fingers at particular parties, but one element in the is the involvement of firms that sought out EB-5 investors and got a large commission for placing these investors into projects. Rapid Visa is an example. It was part of the Jay Peak project until the relationship soured in 2012.

The Vermont project

Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger began as partners to create a succession of EB-5 projects along the Vermont – Canadian border. Initially, the projects focused on Jay Peak, a prominent though rather remote ski resort, frequented by Americans and Canadians. In 2009, the Tram Haus Lodge was opened, funded by EB-5 investors. In 2011 a spectacular (for New England) all year indoor water park opened.

According to data collected by Vermont Digger, as of now the Quiros-Stenger partnership projected $500 million in diverse projects involving mainly ski resorts and downtown development in Newport, Vermont. All the projects were located in Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom.” So far, 439 investors were granted permanent green cards and 134 granted conditional green cards. Presumably, these awards are for well more than 573 individuals as families may be involved. Assuming that each award gave an average of two persons access to permanent residency, that would come to over 1,000 individuals. And, the Quiros-Stenger projects are not by any means completed.


During 2015, warning signals about problems with this multi-phased project began to go off. They concerned primarily a stalled project in Newport and shortage of approved funds for a hotel at Burke Mountain, another area ski resort. When the investigations are completed, it will probably become clear that many insiders knew in 2015, if not before, that entire undertaking was corrupted by the promoters.

On April 14, Vermont Digger reported that the SEC filed complaints against the operation. “In the 82-page SEC complaint, the federal regulatory body said it was taking action to “stop an ongoing, massive eight-year fraudulent scheme” in which Quiros and Stenger “systematically looted more than $50 million of the more than $350 million that has been raised from hundreds of investors” to construct resort facilities and a biomedical research facility. ‘The alleged fraud ran the gamut from false statements to deceptive financial transactions to outright theft,’ said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a news release.

Some of Shumlin’s former colleagues have been working on the project and were in a position to know that something was amiss. They include Alex MacLean, the governor’s former campaign manager and top aide, and head of communications for Jay Peak between 2012 and 2015.

Snapshot of an immigrant: Ana Ramos Martinez

I interviewed Ana in January, 2016, in Medford, Massachusetts. Earl Dotter took photos.

Martinez is one of twelve children raised in a family of coffee and corn planters in El Salvador. As a young adult, she slipped over the American border in 1988 for one reason: to escape poverty. For the first month in America, she slept in a laundromat in Los Angeles. She worked as a clothes trimmer for eight years. She returned to El Salvador to bring her two young girls, walking for forty days, some of them in the desert. She paid off the coyote over seven years.

Today she is an American citizen, working in the Whole Foods Bakehouse in Medford, Massachusetts. One of her daughter works at the same facility. She owns a three family house in Chelsea, Massachusetts and a home in El Salvador. “To come here and succeed, you have to work”, she told us.

Martinez’s story uncovers some causes and consequences of immigration since passage of an historic immigration reform law in 1965. One way that her story is typical is that she is Hispanic (or, as some prefer, Latino). Without the surge in Hispanic immigration since 1965, there would be about 20 million persons in America who self-identify as Hispanic today. In fact,57 million self-identify that way. Roughly half of foreign-born Hispanics in America today are here without authorization.

She lives in a residential portal for low wage immigrants, Chelsea. In 2010, 38% of its population was foreign-born. Many low wage immigrant workers live in concentrations of similar immigrants.

Borjas on immigration’s impact on U.S. labor markets

George Borjas is an expert on immigration at the Harvard Kennedy School. He’s been analyzing the impact of immigration on the American job market. He refers to a “supply shock” of new immigrant arrivals starting in earnest in the 1980s. The total number of immigrants rose and in doing so shifted towards younger age. In-migration into the U.S., he and others found, lowered wages levels while increasing total employment. Some source countries saw their wage levels increase due to out-migration.

Borjas modeled the wage effects the immigrant influx 1990 – 2010. The model reported that the total hours worked by all high school dropouts rose by 25.9% and wages were adversely affected – lowered by 6.2% in the short run and 3.1% in the long run. It said that work hours of college graduates rose by 10.9%, with wages softened in the short run by 3.2% in the short run and 0.1% (i.e. nil) in the long run. (As this was a model, it didn’t reflect actual wage data.) Thus, more work for all and lower wages for some.

He also looked at changes in the employment rates of native-born Americans, legal immigrants and undocumented persons. The employment rate of the three groups was roughly similar in 1994, about 80%, but a marked divergence occurred afterward. The percentage of undocumented male workers employed went up from 80% in 1994 to 86% in 2014. Legal immigrants’ employment rate went up from 78% to 81%. Native-born Americans declined from 80% to 74%. He concluded that native-born Americans were the most sensitive to wage levels. Undocumented workers came here to work and do not withdraw from seeking employment if wages fall.

Borjas has looked at immigration in some pretty obscure areas, such as when 10% of the mathematicians emigrated from Russia after 1992, one third settling in the U.S. He found that the topics of papers written by the Russian immigrants and native-born Americans changed in response to this influx.

Educational status of new immigrants has been sharply rising.

The Pew Research Center reported on higher educational attainment of graduates. It noted a steady moderate increase from 1970 through 2007, then a sharp increase. Native-born Americans are better educated than in 1970, but especially in recent years new immigrants have outpaced native-born Americans in education.

Half of newly arrived immigrants in 1970 had at least a high school education; in 2013, more than three-quarters did. In 1970, a fifth had graduated from college; in 2013, 41% had done so. What is going on?

#1 Rise in foreign college graduates

Immigrants have been tilted to college graduates more than native-born Americans for fifty years, at least. In 1970, about 20% of newly arrived immigrants had at least a bachelor’s degree compared with slightly more than 10% of U.S.-born adults. In 2013, 41% of newly arrived immigrants had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30% of U.S.-born adults and 41% of White Americans.

Note that since 1990, college graduation rates by persons in the United States increased. “From 1990 to 2014, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had attained a bachelor’s or higher degree increased for Whites (from 26 to 41%), Blacks (from 13 to 22%), Hispanics (from 8 to 15%), and Asians/ Pacific Islanders (from 43 to 61 percent).” Go here.

#2: Rise in post-graduate degrees

Newly arrived immigrants also are more likely than U.S.-born adults to hold advanced degrees: In 2013, 18% did so, compared with 11% among those born in the U.S.

#3 Huge impact of more Asian immigrants, fewer Central American

In 2013 new Asian immigrants, half of whom have college degrees, for the first time exceeded Latin American immigrants in number. The number of new Asian immigrants was stable from 2000 until 2008, and then rose. New Latin American immigrant numbers started dropping in 2005; in 2013 their number had dropped by half, and Mexican numbers really dropped.

Asian immigrants are highly educated compared to 28% of the total immigrant population and 30%:

  • In 2013, 4% of Chinese immigrants (ages 25 and over) had a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • 76% of Indian immigrants have college degrees.

The composition of Latin American immigrants has changed. New South American immigrants are better educated than Central American immigrants.  17% of recent Mexican immigrants have some college or more, up from 13% in 1990.

# 4 The entire world is better educated.

The improved levels of education of recently arrived immigrants partly reflects rising education levels worldwide. In 2010, 45% of the world’s population had attended secondary school, up from less than 20% in 1960. Half of 20 to 24 year olds in Mexico graduated from high school compared to less than 10% in 1965. In 2013, 23% of new arrivals did not have a high school degree compared to 50% in 1970.

Still, the share of recent arrivals without a high school education is higher than native-born Americans. Native born Americans with at least high school degree rose steadily since 1970, when about 40% did not have a high school degree. Today, 10% of native-born Americans do not have a high school degree.

The educational profile of all Hispanics in the U.S. remains low, due to the low formal education of previous waves of Hispanic immigrants. “1990 and 2014, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who completed at least a high school diploma or its equivalent increased for Whites (from 90 to 96 percent), Blacks (from 82 to 92 percent), Hispanics (from 58 to 75 percent), and Asians/Pacific Islanders (from 92 to 97 percent).” Go here.

Do immigrant workers win big from a $15 minimum wage?

California has enacted a phased introduction of a $15 an hour minimum wage. Is this law especially helpful for immigrant workers, who are disproportionately represented among low-wage workers?

The Golden state’s employed workforce of 18 million is 34% foreign-born, compared to employment nationwide which is 16% foreign born. An estimated 2 million-plus workers in California are undocumented. Median household income figures (for the entire country) indicate that foreign born workers earn less than native born workers, and for California’s largest by far immigrant population, Mexicans, they earn much less.

Let’s do a very preliminary, very incomplete analysis by looking at several of California’s largest occupations. This analysis can’t be relied on except to strongly suggest that immigrants may be greatly affected by a major minimum wage increase.

The analysis assumes that all positions in the jobs cited below are covered by the $15 minimum.

The median wage in the state in 2015 was $19.15, per federal surveys. The state’s minimum wage as of January 1, 2016 was $10.00 an hour. (The national median wage was $17.40, and minimum wages vary by state.)

Let’s start with maids and housekeeping cleaners (37-2021). In 2015 102,000 Californians worked in this job paying, in California, a median hourly wage of $11.12. Assuming that the $15 wage will come in overnight – which it will not, and all are at the median wage – which they are not, a 34% increase in hourly wage will give these workers an $804 million annual earnings boost. Nationwide, 49% of these workers were estimated in 2009 – 2011 to be foreign born, and half of them were estimate to be illegal. I cannot find an estimate of the foreign born share of jobholders in California.

The same analysis for jobs with very large immigrant share could be done for cooks (California median wage $11.89/hr, 30% immigrant share nationwide) and janitors and building cleaners ($12.40/hr, 27% share).

To make a sharp contrast, let’s look at the state’s pool of 212,000 secretaries and administrative assistants, whose 2015 media hourly wage was $18.43. Using the same simplistic assumptions above, the $15 minimum wage will benefit no one. Nationwide, 8% of these workers are immigrant and less than 1% are undocumented. The same analysis could be done for construction laborers (median wage in California, $18.16/hr, 34% immigrant share nationwide).

For waiters (California median wage $11.19, 16% immigrant share nationwide) the immigrant share matches the total immigrant share in the economy.

Use this tool to track migration trends by state since 1900


The NY Times’ Upshot section published an online interactive map which shows how migration into and out of each state between 1900 and 2012. You select the state and then the in or out migration view.

After browsing through some twenty states I was struck by how the foreign born in-migration experience changes dramatically over time. The periods of large foreign born in migration have deeply influenced the popular historical image of the state; these images persist for generations.

Minnesota in 1900 had 29% of its population foreign born and 51% in-state born. In 1960, 5% of the population was foreign born and 77% in-state born. (The balance of 18% were born in other states.) Prairie Home Companion profiles a Scandinavian-rooted community today, when 8% of the population is foreign born and I expect that very few of these are Scandinavian. As recently as 1990, only 3% of the population was foreign-born; it was up to 8% in 2012.

Massachusetts was a high immigrant state in 1900, when 30% of the population was foreign-born and 55% was in-state born. The foreign born percentage declined until 1970, when it was 10%, and has since increased to 18%. Massachusetts is associated historically with Irish immigration, and that’s how it was in many TV series and crime novels. In the new wave, Latin Americans and Caribbeans dominate. Thus, one of Boston’s current election commissioners, Dion Irish, is from Antiqua and Barbuda.

Several states with a popular image of a melting pot have had relatively high foreign-born percentages throughout. All states experienced a reduction during the middle decades. But New York in 1970 had a relative high of 13% foreign born in 1970. In 1900 it was, and in 2912 it was 26% and 24%. New Jersey qualifies as a steady foreign-born state, under the shadow of its neighbor.

California’s foreign-born population at its lowest share was in 1960, at 9%. In 1900 it was 25% and in 2012 it was 28%. California’s immigration image is diluted by the fact that it has had throughout a relatively high percentage of residents born in other states; in 1940, only 36% of the population was in-state born compared, say, to Ohio, in which the in-state born population persisted almost above 70%. California’s image is less immigrant driven, as Arizona’s and Florida’s, of massive in-migration from other states.

Texas never had a foreign born percentage over 10% until after 1990.

Some states have no popular image of immigrants because of persistently low foreign-born populations. The foreign born population never rose above 5%, and historically were 2% or less, In Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina. The in-state born share in these states has generally persisted above 80%.

There are no states with a recently acquired image of a large foreign-born population, because much of the growth in foreign-born residence outside the top states (New York, Jersey, California and Florida) has been scattered among many states, which grew their foreign born population dramatically since 1980 but none had in 2012 over 15% of its population foreign-born except Nevada. States like North Carolina and Maryland saw huge growth but they started with very low percentages.