Of all the innovations and new products that have breached the competitive global market, U.S. citizenship is now one of them. As part of a sales pitch presented at an investment conference in Beijing, Nicole Kushner Meyer (sister of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser) offered American citizenship in return for a $500,000 investment.
The only scandal about this is that the offer is completely legal. How? Through the EB-5 visa program. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, this 25-year-old EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program grants immigrants a path to a green card if they invest $1 million into a project that creates 10 or more U.S. full-time jobs. However, the minimum investment price drops to $500,000 if the development is “within a high-unemployment area or rural area in the United States.”
After two years, a foreign investor with an EB-5 visa can prove he or she put $500,000 into a developing or high unemployment area and created ten American jobs. Once that proof is confirmed, the investor is finally issued a Green Card, meaning permanent residency status that transforms into citizenship after five years. Fast and easy, if you have the money.
While Nicole Kushner Meyer’s dropping of her brother’s name and political ties have stirred up an ethical debate, the United States is not the only nation to advertise residency via an EB-5-esque immigration program. So you want to be a citizen of the Netherlands? That’ll $1.4 million, please. What about France? $10 million and a two-month wait. According to a study by Allison Christians, citizenship by investment around the world range from $5.4 million in Russia to as low as $5,000 in Paraguay. On average, the price of citizenship is approximately $1 million internationally. However, the program has been accused of being susceptible to fraud and abuse with little oversight. Developers, such as the Kushner Company, can get investments offering very low rates of return because the investors are getting something they care about even more: U.S. citizenship.
While the EB-5 offers a simplified and expedited route to citizenship, the unfortunate truth is that for many entering the United States, $1 million is not exactly petty pocket cash that can be thrown into an ambiguous investment. It seems that the path to citizenship is different for those bringing economic capital and jobs into the country. Their stimulation of the domestic economy is so valued that the government rewards their investment in America’s continued growth with U.S. citizenship. A Department of Commerce review of EB-5 shows that in calendar years 2012 and 2013, more than 11,000 immigrant investors provided $5.8 billion in capital, roughly 35% of the total investment ($16.7 billion), for 562 EB-5 related projects, creating an estimate total of 174,039 jobs. In essence, the government is financing private real estate developers.
Although the EB-5 visa program received bipartisan support for its termination at the end of April, President Trump recently signed a bill to extend that program through the end of September. While attracting foreign investment and generating jobs in the U.S. is undoubtedly supported, advocates for the end of EB-5’s exploitation propose better options, like thoughtful tax and regulatory policies that open the U.S. for more pro-business opportunities rather than through the sale of something quite invaluable: the right—and privilege—to be an American citizen.