MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Gov. Peter Shumlin and Jay Peak resort owner Bill Stenger are leading a group to China and Vietnam to find more people willing to invest in northern Vermont development projects in exchange for immigration privileges.
The trip, which begins Saturday, comes a year after Stenger joined Jay Peak co-owner Ariel Quiros and public officials in announcing the largest series of economic development projects ever in Vermont's three most northeasterly counties.
The developers have been aggressive about taking advantage of the federal EB-5 program in which wealthy foreigners with $500,000 to invest in U.S. projects can get dividends from those investments and another key benefit -- a green card that allows them or their family members to settle in the United States.
The money is being used to help expand Jay Peak and the Burke Mountain ski area, which Jay acquired last year; build new manufacturing space and a hotel in downtown Newport; and provide improvements at the state airport in Coventry. It's estimated the projects will generate about 2,000 new jobs in a part of the state that historically has had Vermont's highest unemployment rates.
Stenger said in an interview that the seven-member Vermont delegation also includes Alex MacLein, a former top Shumlin aide now working with Stenger; Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lawrence Miller; a Chinese-speaking staff member from Miller's agency; and Shumlin's two-member security detail.
The developers are paying for the trip, not Vermont taxpayers, said Shumlin, a Democrat.
The nine-day trip is to include a stop in Beijing; the manufacturing city of Shenzhen in southern China; Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, in Vietnam; and the giant city of Shanghai on China's eastern seaboard.
The journey comes three years after Shumlin criticized his predecessor, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, and his 2010 opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, for similar travels.
"I do not think the answer to our economic problems is junkets to China," Shumlin told television station WCAX during his successful 2010 campaign.
Questioned at a news conference Thursday about such remarks, the governor said, "I don't recall being critical of any particular trip that Gov. Douglas made."
Also at the news conference, Shumlin sharply criticized U.S. immigration policy that allows foreigners with $500,000 to invest in U.S. projects to get green cards while impoverished immigrants from Mexico work illegally on Vermont dairy farms in fear of possible capture and deportation.
"If you're asking me whether America's immigration policy makes any sense at all, the answer is no," he said.
But, he added, "Does the EB-5 program allow us to bring capital into Vermont to grow economic opportunities and jobs that we otherwise wouldn't have had? Yes, it does, and I'm going to harvest every single one of those dollars that we can."