Controversial Visa Program for Wealthy Foreigners Extended in Omnibus

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP

A 10-month extension of the controversial foreign investor visa program is included in the year-end spending deal scheduled for a vote this week.

The EB-5 program grants up to 10,000 visas to foreigners who invest either $1 million in a commercial enterprise or $500,000 if the investment is made in a “Targeted Employment Area” or a high unemployment or rural area. In recent years, however, the program has come under intense bipartisan scrutiny due to apparent abuses in the system.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the program was scheduled to expire Thursday. However, the omnibus includes a 10-month extension, leaving the program in place without reforms through September.

As The Wall Street Journal notes, the Senate and House Judiciary Committees have drafted bipartisan reform legislation and there were bipartisan calls for reform to be included before extension of the program.

“This program has been plagued by fraud and abuse. But more importantly, it poses significant national security risks. Allegations suggesting the EB-5 program may be facilitating terrorist travel, economic espionage, money laundering and investment fraud are too serious to ignore. Yet, the omnibus bill fails to include much needed reforms,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Thursday on the Senate floor, according to prepared remarks.

Given the lack of concessions for reform from industry lobbyists, Grassley said he is now unsure that reform is possible and that it might be time to eliminate the program entirely.

“Maybe we should spend our time, resources and efforts in other programs that benefit the American people.  Maybe it’s time this program goes away,” he said. “The next 10 months will be spent exposing the realities of this program.  As Chairman, I will exercise oversight of this program even more than I have. I will ask tough questions and make more recommendations.”

According to Fortune, aides said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) were among the lawmakers obstructing reforms to the program in the upcoming omnibus.

“We pushed aggressively for its inclusion in the omnibus appropriations bill but congressional leadership inexcusably rejected this much-needed reform,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told Fortune.


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