US Congress takes on visa program aimed at wealthy foreigners

Global Business

US Congress takes on visa program aimed at wealthy foreigners2

The U.S. Congress is scrutinizing a controversial immigration law which gives wealthy foreigners a path to citizenship.

CCTV America’s correspondent Steve Mort reported.
Follow Steve Mort on Twitter @mobilemort

Lawmakers last year temporarily extended the EB-5 visa program, but are expected to overhaul it when it comes up for renewal in September. The program is used by developers to attract foreign investment, either directly or through government-approved ‘regional centers’ where businesses pool funds.

In downtown Orlando, Florida, construction of a 25,000 seat football stadium is underway. The new home of Orlando City’s professional football franchise has a price tag approaching 200 million dollars.

Flavio Augusto da Silva, the club owner, said that about 35 percent of the construction costs will be met by wealthy international investors. “Maybe because I am Brazilian, we have big groups of Brazilians that have invested in the club,” Silva said.

To attract that funding, Orlando City is using a 1990 immigration law which offers green cards, or U.S. permanent residency, as an investment incentive.

To qualify for a EB-5 visa, a foreigner must put a minimum of a million dollars into an approved development project; or $500,000 if the project is in a designated high unemployment area.

The investment must create or save at least ten jobs. It takes as long as 26 months to obtain legal residency through the program.

According to the U.S. State Department, Chinese investors accounted for nearly 85 percent of the approximately nearly 10,000 EB-5 applications in 2015. There has been a dramatic increase in EB-5 filings over the last decade.

But the program has come in for criticism in Congress where some lawmakers said they fear it may facilitate terrorist travel, economic espionage, money laundering and investment fraud.

“This program has been plagued with fraud and abuse. But more importantly it poses significant national security risk,” Senator Chuck Grassley said.

The program has also been criticized by some lawmakers who claim it amounts to selling U.S. citizenship to the rich.