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Grassley: Let’s restore the integrity of visas

Passport-VisaBy Chuck Grassley
United States Senator

 

For more than 200 years, America’s system of free enterprise has sparked innovation and economic mobility in communities across the country. A nation founded by immigrants seeking economic, religious and personal freedoms, our society has flourished thanks to the ingenuity and work ethic put forth by generations of hard workers and big thinkers. The promise of possibility, anchored by the rule of law, shapes our heritage of peace and prosperity.

Congress is often referred to as the people’s branch of the federal government. Our system of self-government works because the American people have a seat at the table through their elected representatives. From taxes and spending to immigration and criminal justice laws, Congress sets the policy table for the people’s business.

Let’s consider an immigration policy that facilitates legal entry into the country.  The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers programs for temporary and permanent workers, students and visitors who want to come to the United States. The federal agency issues visas so that foreign nationals can live, study or work in the country.

Looking for ways to help trigger job creation and boost economic growth, Congress debated the merits of foreign investment and designed a program a quarter-century ago called the Immigrant Investor, or “EB-5” program. In 1992, new incentives were created to attract investors to projects in rural or high-unemployment areas.

Specifically, this special program allows investors to pool their resources and invest in commercial enterprises, with the expectation that they create jobs. The threshold for qualifying investments is $1 million, but is reduced to $500,000 if investments target rural or high unemployment areas, often called a “targeted employment area.”

For several years, I’ve kept close tabs on the program thanks in part to the reports of wrongdoing brought forward by whistleblowers. Cronyism and corruption undercut the good intent of public policy crafted for the public good. And cutting deals for political expediency can compromise national security. What’s worse, allegations suggesting the EB-5 program may be facilitating terrorist travel, economic espionage, money laundering and investment fraud are too serious to ignore.

Mismanagement of immigration laws that put America at risk is entirely inexcusable. That’s why I work tirelessly to conduct thorough scrubbings of executive orders and administrative actions that implement federal immigration policies.

Through my oversight as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I know the administration’s shortcomings with immigration policy aren’t exclusive to the EB-5 program.

Consider a few others that include:

  • the mounting evidence of fraud and abuse of the H1-B skilled worker program that has resulted in thousands of American workers losing their jobs.
  • the President’s proposed expansion of “Optional Practical Training” (OPT) work permits issued to foreign students graduating from U.S. colleges. The OPT program, which was not established by Congress and already gives work permits to more than 100,000 foreign workers each year, circumvents employment-based visas that were established by Congress. An audit by the Government Accountability Office found the OPT program is rife with inefficiencies, poor oversight and susceptible to fraud. A big expansion would make things worse.
  • the unbelievable actions by the Department of Homeland Security that released more than 36,000 convicted criminal aliens from its custody in 2013. Tragically, it now appears that violent, predatory convicted offenders, many of whom have committed homicide or sexual molestation crimes, have been released and granted benefits under this administration’s immigration policies.

Restoring the integrity of the EB-5 visas is one place to start fixing what’s broken. Reforms would help boost economic growth in areas that need it the most and curb risks to national security in the process. That’s why I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the regional center program so that it works as Congress intended.

I’m working to bring meat and potatoes to EB-5’s policy table to help revitalize rural economies and bring good jobs to areas of high unemployment. Among other provisions, my legislative menu would:

  • establish an “integrity fund” that requires regional centers to pay an annual fee to the Department of Homeland Security to conduct audits and site visits;
  • require for the first time that foreign investors prove the creation of direct jobs, in addition to verifiable indirect jobs, before they are able to obtain a green card;
  • strengthen the definition of “targeted employment area” to make sure investment brings jobs to high unemployment or rural areas; and,
  • set standards for federal employees to prevent preferential treatment and boost transparency measures to foster openness during the application and approval process.

Upholding the rule of law strengthens our society. Maintaining the integrity of our investment and employment-based visa programs would help preserve our heritage of welcoming law-abiding immigrants and roll out the welcome mat to lawful foreign investment in underserved areas. Both bring meaningful contributions to America’s banquet of opportunity. Straightening up these table settings would reinforce the rule of law and help boost economic growth and job creation.