Yesterday my Twitter feed was filled with images of the Kushner family in Beijing. Most tweets either insinuated or flat out accused Jared Kushner, White House Innovations Director (whatever that is) and son-in-law to the president, of blatantly breaking conflicts of interest and ethics rules. But just because it says so on Twitter, doesn't mean it's true. Just look at Trump's Twitter page, on any day, at any given time.
Then again, it is the Trump family.
The EB-5 Visa Program
The EB-5 Program was authorized by Congress under the Immigration Act of 1990. Every year, 10,000 visas are made available to wealthy foreign investors and their immediate family members. The investors must give $1 million either in cash or materials to business in the U.S. seeking to start a new project. The investment amount can be dropped to $500,000 if the new business is located in an approved targeted area in need of economic and job growth. All the money goes to the company. The U.S. government has no stake in the transaction.
If approved, the investors and their families receive a temporary visa for two years. After those two years, they are eligible for a permanent resident card and could conceivably become U.S. citizens through naturalization in years to come.
To call them investors is incorrect and misleading. The money is invested into the company, but they are essentially buying their visas.
Lack of Regulation
The requirements for the businesses boil down to it being a new project which must create 10 new jobs. Should the business fail to meet these obligations, the immigrant investor will be deported back to their country of origin. Businesses face no penalties.
This means that the immigrant investor assumes all liability in the EB-5 program. They must trust the company in the U.S. to do as it promises. In fact, most of the complaints filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) come from immigrants who gave their investments to companies that either did not start the project or finish it.
In the end, the business gets all the money and the immigrant is left hoping they keep their word. There is little oversight during the first two years, allowing scam artists to have their ways with these wealthy immigrants. Also troubling, there is no database for citizens to monitor these transactions. No transparency in who is buying these visas, where they are from or who is hiring them.
No Extreme Vetting Allowed
This is the one visa Trump will not try and ban. Susan Pai Law Offices suggests it is because 85% of EB-1 visas come from Chinese immigrants. Even though China is considered a threat to the U.S. by all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, EB-5 visa applicants are given a waiver. The amount of vetting for these immigrants is no more than what every other immigrant receives. The benefit is that they are fast tracked through the system and don't go to the back of the line.
EB-5 visas are big business. Not only are big investment dollars being used but huge amounts of money are being made by attorneys that assist American businesses in finding these wealthy foreigners. Between the client matching and immigration legalities, law firms are raking in the bucks.
Recently, Congress has suggested ending the EB-5 because it is nothing more than buying U.S. citizenship. Add to that the security risks it imposes and many in congress are crying foul. But not everyone is. Some congressmen are being influenced to continue the program.
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Pat Leahy (D-VA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Darryl Issa (R-CA) and Mark Amodei (R-NV) have all spoken at EB-5 events and support the continuation of allowing wealthy immigrants to buy their citizenship. Senator Grassley sponsored the bill to continue the program. Since 2015, lobbyists Greenberg Traurig and Doyce Boesch have spent $320,000 lobbying these congressmen and the White House.
Conflicts of Interest
Susan Pai brought up another, more interesting reason why Trump is not likely to ban the EB-5 program: his son-in-law's company, Kushner 1, is currently in negotiations for more investments. The New York Times reported that Jared's sister, Nicole Meyer was the one in Beijing the other day making a presentation to Chinese nationals interested in buying their way to U.S. citizenship. The Kushner family business is looking to raise $150 million to invest in their Jersey City, One Journal Square property. Both Kushner and Trump have used the EB-5 program in past developments.
The question of conflicts of interest or ethics violations remains. Kushner claims to have cut his ties to the company, but what does that mean? Does that mean he no longer receives money from that organization or that he is not involved in the day to day operations? Much like his father-in-law, Kushner is not transparent about any of this.
It is extremely worrisome that a picture of Trump and congressional supporters was shown at the conference. Are they offering access to Kushner and Trump? Is the Trump family once again inviting foreign nationalists into our institutions for their own benefit, like they did with the Russians?
None of these questions are likely to get answers any time soon seeing as how the Republicans are refusing to investigate.