The Federal EB-5 Visa program may be made permanent in 2012 and the move faces limited opposition. Some whining from Senators Charles Grassley and Lindsey Graham and testimony by the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant “think tank,” were the few remarks not leveling praise at the early congressional hearings. A New York Times editorial, while generally kind to EB-5, however has serious reservations about its implementation:
But the program has spawned cynical practices that are stretching the rules and violating the spirit of the law.
For those not familiar with it, the EB-5 program allows immigrants wishing to obtain US citizenship to invest in approved private businesses ventures. A $500,000 investment in a US business that creates 10 full-time (often low-wage) jobs for American workers will yield citizenship for the wealthy immigrant and family.
For a second year, Vermont and the state’s administrators overseeing the program received the EB-5 Regional Center of the Year Award from a group they oversee. This award was given by the Artisan Business Group, a brokering firm that assists American business owners in capturing investment opportunities (potential immigrants of means) in China. Estimates by the state are that Vermont received $100 million in 2011 for EB-5 visa investment. When Vermonters hear about the EB-5 Visa program at all, it often involves Jay Peak and its years-long expansion into a four-season destination resort, complete with a $25 million year-round indoor water park, funded in part through government-initiated EB-5 investor cash.
This cash-for-visa program has certainly helped Jay Peak’s infrastructure, boosted the owner’s bottom line and lastly supplied some low-wage employment for the Northeast kingdom (see trickledown theory).
The program has aspects of both immigration and investment, so the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) handle oversight nationally. However, questions about the oversight ability of the consistently overburdened and understaffed SEC have surfaced: from EB-5’s inception until 2010, the USCIS had decertified only two regional centers.
It shows some kind of strange disconnect that can allow one arm of our immigration policy to go piggybacking on a development scheme and actively court the wealthy to invest cash in private business enterprises, while another arm works aggressively to deport hundreds of poor immigrants unable to buy their way to a better life. When all is said and done we may soon have a permanent structured system for marketing American citizenship for cash. Strip it all down and it does follow the money.