Our neighbors to the north finally have wised up to the international cash-for-visas scam. Last week, the country ended its foreign investor program that put residency up for sale to the highest bidder. We should have done the same a long time ago.
Canada’s Immigrant Investor Program granted permanent residency to wealthy foreigners who forked over 800,000 Canadian dollars for a five-year, zero-interest loan to one of the country’s provinces. The scheme turned out to be a magnet for tens of thousands of millionaires from Hong Kong and China. But as the Canadian Ministry of Finance concluded in its annual budget report this year, the program “undervalued Canadian permanent residence” and showed “little evidence that immigrant investors as a class are maintaining ties to Canada or making a positive economic contribution to the country.”
In several provinces, the foreign investor racket was riddled from top to bottom with fraud. Whistleblowers in the Prince Edward Island immigration office exposed rampant bribery among bureaucrats and consultants, who helped their clients jump the queue. The government failed to monitor immigrant investors or verify the promised economic benefits of the “investments.” The program didn’t just fast-track supposed business people with dubious business backgrounds, but also their entire extended families, who walled themselves in segregated neighborhoods.
Ads in Dubai bragged that investors didn’t even need to live in the country to take advantage of the citizenship-for-sale deal — and that their dependents could avail themselves of full health care and education benefits.
Fifteen years ago, an independent auditor hired by the Canadian government warned that he had “found that in many cases there was no investment at all or that the amount of that investment was grossly inflated.” The auditor nailed the expedient commodification of citizenship: “Canadians gave up something of real value — a visa or passport — and received very little in return.” He concluded: “A lot of people made a lot of money, mostly lawyers and immigration consultants who set up these bogus investments. It’s a massive sham. The middlemen made hundreds of millions of dollars.”
I’ve been issuing the very same warnings about America’s EB-5 immigrant investor visa program, created under an obscure section of the 1990 Immigration Act, for more than a decade. The details of the U.S. program vary, but the facade is the same: trading residency on the cheap for the shady promise of economic development. Just as in Canada, the U.S. racket’s alleged economic benefits are largely hype.
Who has profited? As I’ve reported previously, the real winners are former federal immigration officials who formed lucrative limited partnerships to cash in on their access and politically connected cronies. An internal U.S. Justice Department investigative report revealed years ago that “aliens were paying $125K” instead of the required $500,000 to $1 million minimum, and “almost all of the monies went to the general partners and the companies who set up the limited partners.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has been pressing EB-5 middlemen who operate a network of regional centers to cough up data on how many jobs these immigrant investor schemes are creating, lists of current and former corporate officers at the centers, and details of consulting services and other contracts into which the centers have entered. Where’s the rest of Capitol Hill?
Just as in Canada, American whistleblowers also have been raising red flags for years. Most recently, immigration officials in Laguna Niguel, Calif., last fall spilled the beans on how they “often rushed or skipped altogether economic reviews of applicants to the EB-5 visa program.” They did so under orders from senior managers pandering to wealthy and politically connected foreign applicants. The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating government retaliation against employees who reported the misconduct. “In essence,” Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) noted in a public letter, “high-level officials in the (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau) are accused of creating an environment hostile to those who insist on following the law.”
That fish rots right down from the head of USCIS, Alejandro Mayorkas, who was confirmed for the job in December — despite remaining under investigation by the DHS Inspector General for his alleged role in intervening on behalf of GreenTech, a crony company with ties to Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Hillary Clinton’s other brother, Anthony. The alleged scam involved special treatment to the company, which wanted special treatment and EB-5 visas for, you guessed it, deep-pocketed Chinese investors.
Recklessly peddling foreign investor visas for the precious privilege of entry into our country is bad for our sovereignty, bad for workers and good for corruptocrats. Moreover, history shows that government is always bad at picking economic winners and losers. If Canada can come to its senses on this, why not America?
Michelle Malkin is the author of “Culture of Corruption: Obama and his Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks and Cronies” (Regnery 2010).