Jul 23, 2019

DHS reforming investor visa, despite last-minute Trump doubts

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Trump administration will publish a new regulation on Wednesday designed to crack down on a notoriously fraud-ridden immigrant visa program for wealthy foreign investors — despite President Trump raising last-minute doubts, according to 3 senior administration officials.

Behind the scenes: Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Ken Cuccinelli played an important role in ultimately persuading Trump to let the regulation go through, according to 2 sources familiar with the situation. People briefed on their conversations said Trump had stalled the regulation after people raised concerns to him that the regulation would curtail foreign investment in the United States.

  • Those in Congress and the administration who worked to get the regulation through had told us they felt blindsided by the delay. "I’m irritated that it was pulled back at the last minute," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told Axios last week. The White House was especially alert to Grassley's concerns, a senior administration official said.

How it works: Before the new regulation, foreigners who invested $1 million in any U.S. commercial enterprise or $500,000 in an enterprise based in certain rural or high-unemployment areas were eligible for a green card through the EB-5 system.

  • The program has become popular in recent years, especially for wealthy Chinese nationals. There is currently a 5-year backlog for Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese people hoping to get a green card through the program, Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told Axios.
  • The visa has also been the source of numerous lawsuits, fraud and investment scams. Both Democrats and Republican members of Congress have harshly criticized it.

The big picture: The new regulation, which originated during the Obama administration, raises the amount of money required to qualify for the visa — the first increase since the program started in 1990. The minimum investment is now $900,000, up from $500,000. It also more clearly defines the areas in the U.S. that count as "targeted employment areas," locations the program was initially intended to help, according to Pierce.

  • It cleared the Office of Management and Budget earlier this month. Cuccinelli tweeted about it. Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan even signed the regulation weeks ago, Grassley said.

Between the lines: Grassley had told Axios that "big money" and powerful people, including the Chamber of Commerce, have opposed efforts to reform the system in the past.

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation last year into the Kushner family's real estate company for its use of the EB-5 program. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has called for the visa to be eliminated to avoid conflicts of interests, Roll Call reported.
  • A senior administration official said Jared Kushner has had no involvement whatsoever in any stage of the development or consideration of the EB-5 regulation.

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