Controversial Visa Program for Wealthy Gets Reprieve

The mega mix-use project Hudson Yards received considerable financing from foreign investors through the EB-5 program.
RELATED-OXFORD

Congress has extended for two weeks a controversial U.S. immigration program that has helped finance a number of luxury condo developments in the country as part of a stopgap budget.

U.S. lawmakers avoided a government shutdown late Thursday by passing a temporary budget through Dec. 22. Along with that was the extension of the EB-5 visa program, which provides a path to citizenship for wealthy foreigners.

The green card pathway, which requires foreigners to invest a minimum of $500,000 in a job-creating project, has underpinned financing for major residential towers, including projects like Hudson Yards in Manhattan, Panorama City in Miami and Hollywood Park in Los Angeles. But a few well-publicized fraudulent projects involving EB-5 funding have placed more scrutiny and calls for reform on the visa pathway.

By now, lobbyists and politicians had hoped to have agreed on a bill updating the program, but major legislative snags and the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election have dogged Congress since President Donald Trump assumed office in January.

“I believe that this will be resolved in the near future when they get beyond certain key legislation,” said Ronnie Fieldstone, a Miami lawyer who leads the EB-5 Law Group at firm Arnstein & Lehr. At the earliest, lawmakers would get around to it in January after negotiating a the tax bill, Mr. Fieldstone added.

He said his firm has been working in overdrive in recent weeks to push through visa applications in case the government let the program sunset on Dec. 8. The program will now expire Dec. 22, unless it’s wrapped into another spending bill.

Efforts to reform the law have stalled over whether to direct more development funding to impoverished and rural areas.

Looming over the industry is the fear that without legislative reform, USCIS, the government agency that oversees the program, will bypass Congress and institute regulations of its own—something lobbyists believe will be unfavorable to the industry.

“If we are unable to get to a conclusion, it is likely that by April 2018 we will be facing new regulations,” said EB-5 trade association IIUSA on Friday, adding that it continues to work with negotiating parties.

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