Here is an excerpt from Teke Wiggin's article on FoxNews.com:
"Members of the Mexican elite are filing for EB-5 visas, which can grant the well-heeled financiers and their families green cards in exchange for investments in projects demonstrated to create or sustain 10 U.S. jobs... [There is] a rapidly increasing number of wealthy Mexicans to who are attempting to escape the violence by investing $500,000 or more in American business projects - thereby earning legal and permanent residency status in the U.S. The majority of the investments are arranged through so-called “regional centers,” designated public or private economic units, which according to law accept a minimum of $500,000 for economic growth projects in rural or high unemployment areas, or a minimum of $1 million for projects outside such areas. Mexicans last year made up a small fraction of EB-5 applicants -- who are approved around 75 percent of the time -- with just 34 filings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. By contrast, more than 1,200 Chinese applied for the visa. But Marco Ramirez, director of USA Now, a Texas regional center that markets itself exclusively to Central and South Americans and operates in the Texas counties of Webb, Zapata, Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy, Kenedy and Cameron, says his organization has raised $90 million from 160 Mexican investors since June 2010, and expects to have about 280 commitments by the year’s end... The process, they argue, ensures all EB-5 holders who receive permanent residency rights have done so to the benefit of U.S. communities. But some critics see things differently, asking whether rich Mexicans should be able to effectively buy residency in the U.S." Link to Full Article
Analysis: I found this to be a fascinating article because I didn't know anything about the EB-5 visa - or its requirements and privileges - before finding this article through a group I follow on Twitter. Of course, my biggest question - both to myself, my readers, and our government - is, is this fair? Essentially, we're selling permanent residency to foreigners with deep pockets. So is the EB-5 visa ethical?
This particular visa category was created by the Immigration Act of 1990, so it's been around for a couple of decades. It's also available to all foreigners, not just Mexican nationals, and the money goes towards US projects that generally benefit communities in dire need. The investor doesn't have to have any say in the project itself, although if he or she wants a more hands-on role in how the money is used, then the minimum shoots up to $1 million.
I did find it interesting that only 34 Mexican applications came in last year, compared to over 1,200 Chinese applicants. Of course, the population of China is considerably higher than that of Mexico, and there are probably more Chinese millionaires than Mexican millionaires. However, it's not like the drug war violence just started yesterday; I'm curious why the number of anticipated applicants, if Marco Ramirez's projections turn out to be accurate, is only shooting up now.
It's tough for me to say if the EB-5 visa is a bad thing, a good thing, or somewhere in a gray area. It's probably the latter. After all, the money is doing a lot of good in communities that are in need of capital investment. Our economy is hurting, so the boost in the injection of dollars from the outside is a huge help. However, Mexico's economy is hurting even worse than ours, and that's money leaving their country that could be invested in Mexican projects. Of course, given the situation with corruption in Mexico, it's hard to say how much of those investment dollars would actually go towards a worthy project, and how many would go towards greasing palms and lining pockets.
As for the granting of instant permanent residency, that's the part that makes me uncomfortable. I've seen how hard "regular" immigrants work for that status, and it's not right that someone can just get it because they have money. Mind you, I'm not being naïve; there are a lot of things more critical in life than residency being bought and sold between people and governments. But this has been a legal option for more than twenty years, and I'm frankly surprised that there hasn't been more public debate about it.
One of the reasons I felt inclined to comment on this story - or at least vent my ambivalence about it - is that I'm getting more requests to testify in asylum cases than ever before, and I'm seeing a lot of stories of Mexicans whose lives would be in great danger if deported back to Mexico. That doesn't excuse the fact that most arrived in the US illegally, or are in blatant violation of federal immigration laws. However, the granting of asylum to these people - no matter how blatant the threat to their lives is - is close to impossible, and they barely have the money to pay me as an expert, let alone half a million dollars to be able to stay in the US.
Yet one could also argue that the wealthy in Mexico are under threat for the simple fact that they have money. Every day, they're moving targets for kidnapping and extortion. Because wealthy Mexicans are a rare breed, DTO members usually know who they are in every city and community, so they can't escape the drug lords' scrutiny. If they have the means to protect themselves and their spouses and children, why shouldn't they? The EB-5 visa program has strict requirements for proving the money the invest comes from legitimate sources, and the results of their investments are examined over the course of two years.
So if you can't tell by my back-and-forth on this, I'm still not sure what to think of the EB-5 visa program. As always, I'm very interested to hear my readers' own thoughts.