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Report: Feds Must Do More to Assess ‘Wealthy Investor’ Visa Fraud

With three bills now before Congress seeking to overhaul and reauthorize the soon-to-expire EB-5 foreign investment program, which provides a pathway to American citizenship popular among wealthy Chinese citizens, a report this month from the United States Government Accountability Office said the federal agency charged with administering that program must do more to assess fraud risks.

While the GAO report noted that the office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has taken measures to deal with EB-5 fraud, it said the agency’s current information systems and processes hamper the USCIS from gathering certain information on the program’s participants, making it more difficult to identify potential fraud.

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The report also said the USCIS needs to improve the way it reports economic benefits of EB-5 investments to the public and Congress.

The GAO’s findings come as federal lawmakers decide on how to revamp the foreign investment program, established by Congress in 1990 to help create American jobs and stimulate the American economy. Three bills -- one introduced in the Senate, and two in the House of Representatives -- seek to reform such EB-5 provisions as how jobs are created and the processing times for paperwork. The program is set to expire September 30.

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In recent years, theEB-5 visa, of which roughly 10,000 are awarded annually, has become a convenient way for wealthy Chinese citizens to become permanent U.S. residents and later bring over their family members. In 2014, some 85 percent of EB-5 investors were Chinese, according to a study bySavills Studley, a real estate services firm. To receive a conditional EB-5 green card, applicants must invest between a half-million and one-million dollars in a U.S. business, depending on its location, and create at least 10 jobs.

While some have criticized the EB-5 program as a government sale of visas, others point out how EB-5 investments have financed big projects like the Hudson Yards in New York and the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco. For U.S. Rep Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who co-sponsored the latest bill introduced in July to reform the EB-5 program, immigrants have long been a boon to the U.S. economy.

“This bill embraces that history and encourages the world’s thinkers and doers to join us,” she said in a statement.