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Ma settles visa dispute, can re-enter U.S. to advance school plans

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OGDENSBURG — Businessman James Ma has resolved his visa dispute with the U.S. government.

The resolution means he is free to re-enter the country from his native China and resume his plans open an English-as-second-language school at the former Academy at Ivy Ridge on Route 37, town of Oswegatchie.

Last month, Mr. Ma was told by U.S. officials that his visa status would have to be changed from B-1/B-2, which is for business or tourism, to EB-5, which provides a method of obtaining a green card for foreign nationals who invest money in the United States.

“I went to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing again on Jan. 28,” Mr. Ma said Thursday in an email from China. “I brought a lot of documents which said that I was not ready to apply for my green card but need to travel to the U.S. from time to time. The officer listened to my explanation and granted me a visa.”

Mr. Ma’s visa status, however, isn’t permanent.

“It needs to be renewed every year,” he said.

Mr. Ma said he expects to be back in the United States by Feb. 20, following celebration of the Chinese New Year, to carry on with plans to open the school by fall.

Resolving the visa dispute, he said, removed one barrier from his timetable.

“Yes, this is one of the hurdles we faced,” Mr. Ma said. “We foresee there are others to be overcome.”

Mr. Ma is still confident that his new school will have a partnership with Qingdao University in Shangdong Province and, possibly, another college in Shanghai, both of which are considering opening U.S. campuses there.

Qingdao already has academic exchange programs with several U.S. colleges and universities, making it easier to obtain visas for prospective students. Mr. Ma’s inability to obtain visas for students was one factor in his not being able to open the school last fall as planned. In order to get student visas, he had to have already established the school.

Mr. Ma wasn’t alone in persuading officials from the U.S. Embassy to change their minds about his visa status. Ogdensburg real estate broker Allison B. Chadwick, who handled the $1.5 million sale of the 238-acre campus of the former reform school to Mr. Ma in summer 2011, was among those who sent supportive letters on his behalf.

“Allison and quite a few other friends offered assistance, which I appreciate very much,” he said.

Mr. Ma’s other investments in the town include 102 acres of land off Route 37 by Lee Road for development of a 20-home subdivision and the former United Helpers Cedars Nursing Home, nearby on Route 37, which he plans possibly to convert into a hotel or office space. In Ogdensburg, he owns the former Sholette’s Steak and Ale restaurant at 1000 Linden St. There, he plans to open a Chinese restaurant and specialty shops.

Renovations for the new school will cost about $2 million.

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