Green Card Program Could Mean Revenue for California County

Pending approval from the U.S. Immigration Department, a former air force base in California could soon be turned into an aviation business center, the Merced County Sun-Star reports.

Castle Air Force Base closed in 1995, leaving runways, hangars and other facilities vacant. Merced County officials have sought ways to develop the site for years, and the board of supervisors recently approved a plan for the Sierra Academy of Aeronautics to turn the base into a center for charter flights, import-export operations and aircraft maintenance, according to the Sun-Star.

If approved by federal immigration authorities, the project would be funded entirely by private foreign investors through the EB-5 program. EB-5 encourages domestic business growth by granting green cards to international investors. Bob Deklinski, Sierra Academy’s director of public affairs, told the Sun-Star that the Castle project’s investors are more motivated by the promise of a green card than by potential monetary returns.

Because the project will be financed privately, there is no monetary risk to the county, which could stand to earn $52 million in annual revenue from the aviation center, according to Deklinski. But members of the region’s farm community have opposed the proposal, telling the Sun-Star that no feasible plan to export local crops is in place.

In 2009, 4,218 EB-5 Visas were issued, up from 1,360 in 2008, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.