Trump considers increasing visas for foreign investors
Immigration hardliners oppose expanding a program offering visas to foreign investors — including from China, which is under fire for its early handling of coronavirus.
President Donald Trump. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
03/18/2020 07:07 PM EDT
The Trump administration is considering a controversial proposal to boost the number of visas offered to wealthy immigrants who invest money in the United States as it tries to boost a faltering economy amid the escalating coronavirus outbreak, according to four people familiar with the situation.
The proposal, which could be included in one of the Senate’s coronavirus rescue bills, would significantly boost the number of visas offered annually from 10,000 to 75,000 while halving the investment required to earn legal residence from $900,000 to $450,000, they say.
Half the recipients of the EB-5 visa program — investors and their families — come from China, according to a report by the Brookings Institution think tank. Many others come from South Korea and Taiwan.
Immigration hardliners, who are generally supportive of President Donald Trump’s policies, oppose the proposal because of concerns about increasing the number of foreigners coming to the U.S., especially from China, which Trump blames for its handling of the coronavirus.
“Using a coronavirus package to give more green cards to shady investors from the country where the virus originated would be Washington at its worst.”
RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform
“Using a coronavirus package to give more green cards to shady investors from the country where the virus originated would be Washington at its worst,” said RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, who has been in touch with the White House and the Senate about the proposal. “If an immigration proposal doesn’t enhance public safety or protect American workers, it doesn’t belong in there. Period.”
The proposal comes as the Trump administration is putting temporary holds on other types of visas for lower-income immigrants — including agricultural workers, camp counselors and resort workers — as U.S. unemployment is expected to soar.
The administration is also considering reversing its recent decision to increase by 35,000 the number of nonagricultural seasonal workers the U.S. brings in each year, such as landscapers, crab-pickers and lifeguards, two people familiar with the situation say.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump made cracking down on immigration the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign and a top priority of his presidency. “Our country is full,” Trump warned in April, standing at the southern border in California.
He has implemented harsh travel restrictions on numerous majority-Muslim nations and cut refugee caps, but he has also backed proposals that would increase the number of immigrants and offer citizenship to some here illegally.
The EB-5 program was created in 1990 to boost rural areas and economically distressed urban ones. But in recent years developers have found ways to carve high-income areas into the locations.
The program has been used for years by property developers in New York City, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, to oversee projects that have helped create jobs and generate tax revenue, according to a person close to the White House.
The Trump administration enacted a new rule in November raising the minimum investment amount and pushing the program to be used in rural and high-unemployment areas. Investments are supposed to lead to the creation of 10 U.S. jobs but that requirement has been interpreted in different ways.
The proposed changes are likely to meet resistance from governors in states with large rural populations who believe the program — as it is currently structured — ignores them, according to a second person close to the White House.
The proposal indicates immigrants would have to be “cleared first,” but it’s unclear whether that refers to the coronavirus or the immigrants’ investments. It could also address lengthy wait times that have led to a reduction in participation.
Groups that favor immigration restrictions including FAIR and Numbers USA are lobbying senators to keep changes to the program out of their bill and asking supporters across the country to call their senators.
“It’s ridiculous to think that there are some in Congress who are looking to take advantage of a national health crisis by pushing for a massive increase in the number of green cards made available for foreign investors,” said Chris Chmielenski, deputy director at NumbersUSA, which supports immigration restrictions. “While millions of American workers are concerned about their health and job status, Congress should be focusing on helping them and not selling off green cards.”
The expansion is being pushed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Trump ally who has supported easing restrictions in the past, according to one of the people. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has long considered the program corrupt and tried to change the system but in 2018 called for it to shut down altogether.
“The American people understand that our citizenship is a blessing, and shouldn’t be given away cheaply,” he said on the Senate floor that year. “Unfortunately, for too many years this body has witnessed the perversion and degradation of a program that sells, yes sells, our citizenship.”
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