Trump’s “build the wall” immigration agenda isn’t as inflexible as it seems. That hardened border has one exclusive toll booth: It’s called the EB-5 visa, aka “greenbacks for green cards”—known among global investor circles as the EZ Pass to the American Dream.
Through the EB-5 program, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) offers about 10,000 spots annually for foreign investors to purchase at the “front of the queue,” if they promise to sink $500,000 to $1 million in a US-based “development” project. The goal is to give investors priority in the green-card process as a “sweetener” in exchange for investing in commercial ventures that boost employment. But the controversial program, which has exploded since the financial crisis, has been tarnished by links to shady influence-peddling in the backrooms of Trump’s real-estate empire.
The EB-5 bonus, which has been renewed under Trump despite mounting public criticism, flew into the media spotlight after the family firm of Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner allegedly dangled a visa bonus when negotiating a luxury-apartment development proposal with Chinese investors. Yet the deal reflects problems deeper than hints of conflict of interest. The EB-5 symbolizes the corporate corruption festering throughout Washington’s broken-border policies.
Under the current rules (which policy-makers are now seeking to overhaul), a $1 million investment in a proposed business project can score an immigrant a visa as long as the petitioner shows it will create “10 permanent full-time jobs.” There’s also a discount option in which an investment of $500,000 qualifies for a visa if sited in a “targeted employment area,” like a blighted urban neighborhood, or a rural area outside of a metropolitan region. But, aside from those broad geographic criteria, the specific mandates on what project investors are intended to produce are extremely vague. For years critics have argued that the fast track to legal residency merely creates another platform for gentrification that makes a mockery out of both the visa system and the notion of government-driven job creation.
Nevertheless, Trump’s plans for the EB-5 program aren’t all that different from past immigration policy: Access to visas has often turned on wealth and privilege, especially for immigrants who are Trump’s kind of people—wealthy investors—and therefore “the good kind” of immigrant.