Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is doing something USCIS should be doing in the EB-5 (immigrant investor) program.
He is asking the routinely secretive middlemen in the EB-5 program, the regional center operators, to tell him how much money they are raising through the program, how much in fees they are charging, and how many jobs are being created, among other things.
The ranking minority member of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee is doing so through letters sent to at least some of the centers, according to a news item in EB5NewsBlog.
He wants his answers by March 7, but I doubt that he will get much of a response; a member of Congress, when acting individually like this, cannot compel replies. And he is seeking data that both USCIS and the industry guard with zeal, as the responses might (and probably would) shed unattractive light on the whole business. The senator's letter seeks the following:
- Any approval from USCIS to participate in the EB-5 program regarding the regional center and its business plan, including any subsequent recertification;
- The total annual amount of investment and the number of individuals by country of origin making investments through the regional center since it has been in operation;
- The name, address, and a description of each business in which the regional center has made an investment of funds and the number of jobs created by each investment;
- Any fees charged to EB-5 applicants or received by the regional center, including amount and description;
- A list of any current or former corporate officers of the regional center, including title, position, and dates of employment; and
- The name and address of any individual or entity — either foreign or domestic — that the regional center has an agreement with to provide legal, accounting, recruiting or consulting services, as well as a description of the service provided.
The middlemen, of course, will raise "privacy" concerns, as if swapping investments for green cards is a strictly private transaction, like the buying and selling of race horses. It is not.
What is for sale is a set of government-issued visas, i.e., public property like the Hoover Dam is public property.
The senator is simply asking for data that USCIS should have been collecting and publishing for years.
Instead of cheering on the Senator, and urging full response to his inquiries, EB5NewsBlog tells the regional centers:
the EB-5 Visa Program:
[R]ecent Congressional interest in the EB-5 program has appeared to be both negative and politically motivated. In light of this, we advise our regional center clients to contact us upon receipt of the letter to formulate an appropriate response.
I hope I am wrong, but this sounds like "let's politely stonewall the senator on this one."
Senator Coburn is a very conservative member of the body and, personally, not one of my favorite pols, but he certainly is right on this issue. Unfortunately for the EB-5 policy debate he has announced that he is resigning at the end of the year, two years before the end of his term.
Since he represents Oklahoma, he probably will be replaced by another conservative Republican, but someone who probably knows nothing about this issue. And that's a shame.