One-percenters: Rich EB-5 immigrants get free service at taxpayer expense

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The Obama administration’s fetish for wealthy foreign nationals — expressed through relentless promotion of an immigrant investor program — has spilled over to a little-known bureaucratic backwater: the Ombudsman’s Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services photo

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services photo

GET IN LINE: Ombudsman Maria
Odom acknowledges that EB-5
processing times have
“degraded” amid controversy
over the program.

The office was originally established to help poor, marginally literate migrants navigate their way into America.

Now it turns out that the richest immigrants, seeking green cards through the scandal-plagued EB-5 visa-investor program, get a disproportionate share of the ombudsman’s service at taxpayer expense.

“The folks getting four and a half times the average attention of this office are fully documented millionaires, all with lawyers at their beck and call,” said David North, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies.

“They have [usually] made their half-million-dollar investment, and now want their EB-5 visas, and they get the services of the USCIS Office of the Ombudsman to help them make that visa purchase.”

The Ombudsman’s Office is a small $6.4 million cog in the multibillion-dollar immigration machine overseen by the Department of Homeland Security. Its 30 employees handled 9,448 cases during fiscal 2015.

Of the 9,448 cases, 418 — or 4.5 percent — involved affluent foreign investors seeking to buy “family-sized sets of green cards,” North noted.

EB-5 visas — capped at 10,000 annually — make up only 1 percent of the 1 million aliens granted permanent resident status each year.

“This obscure [EB-5] form is the third most popular of those treated by the ombudsman, trailing only applications for work permits and for naturalization,” North said.

While the cost of USCIS visa processing is funded primarily through user fees, the Ombudsman’s Office runs on tax dollars – making its assistance free to wealthy visa seekers.

“It’s another case of ‘Thems that have, gits,’” North said of the treatment of EB-5 applicants.

Ombudsman Maria Odom said her office recorded a 270 percent increase in requests for assistance in the past four years.

She acknowledged that EB-5 processing times have “degraded” amid “allegations and findings of fraud or noncompliance with other federal laws; the manipulation of Targeted Employment Areas through gerrymandering; and the inconsistent implementation of policy.”

This post appeared on Watchdog.org. © 2016 Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity Reprinted with permission.


About The Author

Kenric Ward Kenric Ward is the San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org. A California native and veteran journalist who has worked on three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, he received a BA from UCLA (Political Science/Phi Beta Kappa) and holds an MBA. He reported and edited at the San Jose Mercury News and the Las Vegas Sun before joining Watchdog.org in 2012 and previously reported from Virginia. Kenric can be reached at kward@watchdog.org.


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