Tue, May 02, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Wealthy Chinese scramble for a US ‘golden visa’

Several US lawmakers have criticized the EB-5 program as a Ponzi scheme with inadequate background checks of investors

By Javier C. Hernandez  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJING

He has a lakeside villa valued at more than US$3 million, two Mercedes sedans in the garage, and a butler who fluffs his pillows and shines his shoes.

However, Liu Xiyu, a real-estate executive in Beijing, still lacks the convenience he says he most wants in life: A US green card.

Fed up with China’s rampant air pollution and the rigid school system his children endure, Liu last year pledged US$500,000 to a California housing development in hopes of obtaining a special visa for investors, known as EB-5, that would allow his family to spend more time in the US.

Now, US President Donald Trump’s vow to tighten immigration policies and new scrutiny after a series of fraud and abuse scandals have spurred thousands of Chinese applicants like Liu to seek a visa before more stringent requirements can be put in place.

Lawmakers were discussing the EB-5 program last week as they tried to reach a deal on the budget and avert a government shutdown.

“I’m trying to help America’s economy grow,” Liu, 47, said. “I don’t understand why anyone would be opposed.”

Wealthy Chinese families eager to move money out of China have rushed to obtain green cards through the EB-5 program in recent years.

Last year, three-quarters of the roughly 10,000 investor visas issued went to Chinese.

The program, sometimes referred to as a “golden visa,” has helped attract billions of US dollars of investment in hotels, highways, casinos and other projects in the US.

It has also prompted concerns about abuse, including a US$50 million fraud investigation in Los Angeles this month involving more than 100 people, including Chinese.

The program poses a dilemma for Trump, who has vowed to tighten immigration policies, but who is also eager to promote job creation.

Since taking office, he has sought better economic relations with China after assailing the country during the presidential campaign, and as businesspeople, Trump and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, embraced the EB-5 program to help finance real-estate projects.

In China, many visa applicants hope that Trump will examine the issue from a business perspective.

They say they agree with the US president’s call for stricter immigration policies, but they have said he should focus on undocumented immigrants, not investors.

Li Jing, an entrepreneur from Beijing who applied for an investor visa two years ago, said it was unfair that the US permitted undocumented immigrants to live in the country, but turned away Chinese investors seeking visas through legal means.

Li invested US$500,000 in a highway project in Georgia, hoping to obtain a green card so she could join her son, who is studying at a military academy in the state.

She said a booming real-estate market in Chinese cities was making it easier for families to sell homes and use the money to invest.

“The most important thing is education for the kids,” she said. “Chinese parents are willing to spend anything. They’re trying to give the next generation the best they can provide.”

The EB-5 program, created in 1990, allows foreigners and their immediate relatives to apply for permanent residency in the US if they invest US$500,000 in projects that create at least 10 jobs in rural regions or areas with high unemployment. They can also become eligible by investing US$1 million in projects in other areas.

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