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The Controversial Program That Lets Wealthy Foreigners Buy Visas Is Under Scrutiny

Thousands Become Citizens At Naturalization CeremonyThousands Become Citizens At Naturalization Ceremony
Immigrants wave flags after being sworn in as U.S. citizens in naturalization ceremonies on July 26, 2007 in Pomona, California.Photograph by David McNew — Getty Images

Lawmakers from both sides of the party divide have rallied around cases of abuse within the EB-5 visa program, highlighting possible fraud and national security concerns.

The program puts wealthy foreign investors on a path towards obtaining a green card if they invest $500,000 to $1 million in a project on U.S. soil and create at least 10 jobs. But a process once created to boost the economy is now seen as an opportunity for individuals with questionable backgrounds to launder money and gain entry into the U.S.

It’s an issue that has united both Republicans and Democratic senators. “It’s no secret that the program has long been riddled with corruption and national security vulnerabilities,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, told The New York Times. “I don’t believe that America should be selling visas and eventually citizenship,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat of California.

 

The program has grown to nearly 9,000 conditional EB-5 visas last year, of which 80% were issued to Chinese investors. But in a Government Accountability Office report released last year, the agency said there was a limited ability by U.S. immigration to collect more data to assess risk of fraud, and that petitioners had an incentive to report inaccurate information when funds were “obtained through drug trade, human trafficking, or other criminal activities.”

Last year, a Chinese national was arrested after investigators found he had obtained an EB-5 visa using stolen money. A 2013 Homeland Security investigation found that an Iranian who was arrested and involved in the EB-5 program had ties to Iranian intelligence operatives, The Times reported.

The Department of Homeland Security said it was taking steps to address the issues. “The secretary intends to do all he can within his legal authority to do so,” Marsha Catron, a spokeswoman for the department, told The Times.