Let's Have Honest Names for Visa Offices — Change IPO to VSO

By David North, April 24, 2017

The Trump administration says it wants to drain the swamp in Washington; one small backwater in that great big marsh is the practice of giving government programs misleading names and initials.

For example, the immigrant investor program (or EB-5) is run by an entity within USCIS called by the initials IPO.

This gives the image of the frontiers of the free market; an initial public offering (IPO) in the world outside Washington means that a promising firm is raising money for expansion by selling stock to the public for the first time. It evokes a sense of dynamic innovation and risk-taking by tech start-ups looking to be the next Google.

Note that the initials IPO, in the outside world, stand for the three words in the phrase.

In Washington, however, the name of the agency in charge of the EB-5 program is the Immigrant Investor Program Office, which, if given an honest set of initials would come out IIPO, which would have no implications of anything in particular. The name of the agency — in fact, the agency itself — was created by the Obama administration and is thus its name is fair game for the new people in charge.

While the mis-initialization (if that's a word) is bad enough, the loaded overtone of the initials is much worse. It suggests a brash, innovative capitalist maneuver that simply does not exist in the EB-5 program, at least it does not for the aliens involved.

A typical EB-5 investment, at least currently, involves the use of aliens' money to provide mezzanine financing (i.e., no ownership, no guarantees) at rock-bottom rates (often 1 percent), which provides nice profits for the EB-5 middlemen and the big-city real estate promoters, and a miserable return on the investment (assuming that the money is not stolen first) for the aliens. That's hardly the entrepreneurial ambiance promised by the initials IPO.

So let's call the agency by another set of initials. Changing it to IIPO, on the grounds of accuracy in initialization, would be a modest step in the right direction. A more forthright draining of the swamp would change the name of the agency to the Visa Sales Office and the initials would become VSO.

Meanwhile, let's hope that the new leadership of the government, and USCIS, eliminates the totally misleading term "alien entrepreneur" when it means EB-5 applicant. The EB-5 investor is a totally passive investor who is routinely much more interested in the handful of visas for himself, his spouse, and his under 21-year-old children, than he is on the return of his money.

I was reminded of this recently, when IPO/USCIS issued a routine announcement regarding the form that is submitted by would-be alien investors, in which the words "alien entrepreneur" are used.

Readers: Any other suggestions along these lines? There will be at least one more posting on this general subject.