Report: Immigration Program for Wealthy Under Scrutiny

Monday, 10 Sep 2012 05:30 PM

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An immigration program through which wealthy foreigners and their families pay big cash to become citizens is being investigated by two federal agencies.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Securities and Exchange Commission are scrutinizing the EB-5 “investor visa” program, The Daily reports.

The program is run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the visa-granting arm of Homeland Security.

At least $2.3 billion in financing has been generated through the program for hundreds of construction projects around the country, from a ski resort in Vermont to strip malls in California, The Daily reports.

But some of the developments have gone bust or are in legal disputes that allege fraud, casting doubt on the immigration agency’s ability to effectively monitor the program, The Daily reports. The concerns have generated the attention of the federal agencies.

Under the EB-5 program, foreigners both in the U.S. and abroad must generally invest at least $500,000 to receive a temporary visa. If the investment creates 10 jobs after two years, the investors and family members can seek permanent residency – and eventually citizenship. If not, they face deportation.

Regardless of the outcome, there is no guarantee of repayment, The Daily reports.

The program was established 22 years ago. Immigration officials have since approved 12,904 investment visas; the investments have created an estimated 46,810 jobs, The Daily reports.

But the once-obscure program has now become a lucrative industry since the recession has dried up construction financing, The Daily reports. Developers and immigration attorneys have expanded their recruitment efforts to China and other far-away countries.

The number of foreigners applying for visas under the program since the start of fiscal year 2008 totaled 12,201, The Daily reports. That compared with 9,475 in the previous 17 years combined, according to USCIS.

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