The Democratic chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said Wednesday he now backs a bill to fix national security and fraud problems with a visa program that gives coveted U.S. green cards to wealthy foreigners investing in new American businesses.
“I would urge all of my colleagues concerned about security issues in the (EB-5 visa) program to join me as a co-sponsor of that bill,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat.
He spoke at a committee business meeting held to consider the nomination of Alejandro “Ali” Mayorkas to be the second-in-command at the Department of Homeland Security.
Mr. Mayorkas is currently the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Homeland Security agency that runs the EB-5 visa program. His nomination ran into problems over the summer when it emerged that the department’s inspector general had launched an investigation into his handling of the program, after allegations he had sought to intervene on behalf of politically connected applicants.
Mr. Mayorkas denies any wrongdoing, and Mr. Carper said that blaming the nominee for problems in the program was “grossly unfair,” because Congress itself had failed to fix them.
In May of last year, when legislation authorizing the program was up for renewal, Mr. Carper said, USCIS “proactively reached out” lawmakers and briefed them “on several national security and fraud concerns in the EB-5 program.”
A month later, he added, they followed up with a detailed set of legislative fixes, giving them the authority to close loopholes in the law — for instance, giving the agency power to run background checks on Americans administering the special regional centers that recruit EB-5 applicants and funnel their investments into new businesses.
“Unfortunately, the EB-5 program was reauthorized in September of 2012 — with bipartisan support — without any of these changes,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said the senator was working with Mr. Carper to prepare a bill to make the program permanent and improve its “integrity, accountability and transparency.”
The spokeswoman said the bill would cover the same ground as legislative language Mr. Leahy successfully added to the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill earlier this year. With that bill stalled in the House, congressional staff say, a standalone law is the only hope for fixing the EB-5 program before it is up for renewal in 2015.
Mr. Leahy’s bill will give USCIS the additional authorities it asked for and increase the reporting requirements on regional centers. But it will also make it easier for applicants to show their money has created the jobs required (at least 10 per investment) and increase the number of EB-5 visas available every year by several thousand.