@StateDept Spox Talks About K-Visas Again … C’mon Folks, This Is Not Fun to Watch

Posted: 2:57 am EDT
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This is a follow-up to our post Dear @StateDept, You Need Bond. Michele Bond at the Daily Press Briefing. On December 14, State Department spokesman John Kirby got his turn to answer questions about K-visas at the podium.  Prior to the exchange below, Mr. Kirby told the press that “Again, I’m not an expert on process… we can get somebody who’s much better at this than me to walk you through how that’s done, okay?”

Folks, you need your expert there last week!  C’mon, this is not fun to watch.

dosomething

 

QUESTION: John, another visa question. The Wall Street Journal has just put out an alert saying that the United States is working on a plan to scrutinize social media in visa reviews. And in the text of their story, they say that the Department of Homeland Security is working on such a plan. I have myself never fully understood the different responsibilities between the State Department, which issues the visas and conducts the interviews, and DHS, which performs some kind of a review prior to the issuance of a visa. So, I guess, two questions: One, can you explain to me the difference between those roles? And two, given that the State Department already has the option to scrutinize social media, why DHS is just kind of cottoning onto this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak for DHS and decisions that they might be making. I think – I have not seen that report, but it’s very much consistent with what I think I’ve been saying here, that we are also looking at the use of social media in the visa application process.

Again, with my vast experience here at the State Department, I’ll do the best I can to try to summarize this, and I’ll ask Elizabeth, who’s been a consular officer, to jump if she thinks I get this wrong. And I mean that, you should. As I understand it, we are the overseas arm here. DHS is the homeland arm of the process of an individual who wants to come the United States for whatever legal reason – marriage, want to cover a story, whatever. So somebody applies for a visa over there, and our embassy or consuls will examine that application and make certain decisions about whether it’s going to be permitted or not – approved or not. And again, that process can take any – a different, variant amount of time based on the individual. And again, it’s all done by case – case by case.

The simple act of a consular officer saying, “Okay, it’s approved; you can travel to the United States,” doesn’t actually mean that the individual is going to be able to complete that travel, because there’s – DHS does help in this process. But where they really are important is at port of entry here in the United States. So when an individual – and all of us have traveled overseas. You go up to the customs desk and then they are the – they’re the final point at which an individual is allowed to enter or not, and that’s where DHS is most critical is at the port of entry and doing yet another validation of the permission, the – which is what a visa is. It’s basically us saying you are permitted to travel, where they get that sort of final vote in validating that permission.

So it’s got to be – and as I understand it, it’s not a simple, clean handoff either. I mean, there’s constant coordination and communication between State and DHS throughout the process of one’s application. But ultimately DHS gets the final say when an individual gets to the United States.

Did I cover that well enough? Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: DHS must get involved before they simply show up on American shores?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, as I said, it’s not a clean handoff. It’s not like the State Department says okay, here’s —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I mean we work with DHS throughout the application process and approval.

QUESTION: And are you saying that the DHS and the State Department may have different standards and policies as it applies to, for instance, scrubbing social media?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t know what DHS’s policies are, so I can’t speak for that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: But it is a factor in our process.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MR KIRBY: And in light of what happened in San Bernardino, I can assure you that we’re going to continue to look at social media practices and platforms going forward. And we’re going to do this – we’re doing this review in concert with DHS, and I think it’s safe to assume that as we conduct the review, when we learn things – if there’s things that we can do better, we’ll do it better as a team, not individually.

QUESTION: Right. I just wonder if people are pointing fingers right now saying, “No, you were supposed to check that; that was your deal.” Whose deal is it?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any finger pointing that’s going on inside the interagency right now. What we want to do is cooperate with investigators, learn as much as we can about how this happened, and do whatever we can to try to prevent it from happening again. And I can tell you – again, I don’t like speaking for another agency, but I think I’m on safe ground saying that Secretary Johnson shares Secretary Kerry’s concern that we work in concert and as a team as we both cooperate with the investigation and conduct this review.

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EB-5 Program: U.S. Citizenship For Sale For $1M, Or Only $500K With Loophole Discount

Posted: 1:02 am EDT
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The EB-5 visa program was designed to provide entry visas–and a path toward American citizenship–to immigrants who invest at least $1 million, or $500,000 in high unemployment or rural areas, to create or preserve at least 10 jobs.

Early this year, the Seattle Times asks, “how does downtown Seattle, the job center of the nation’s fastest-growing big city, become Detroit on paper?” The report says that the EB-5 rules has a loophole that cuts the price of a green card to $500,000 if foreigners invest in a rural area or urban one with high unemployment. “The rules allow them to string together several areas of high unemployment with one of low unemployment, like Manhattan or downtown Seattle, then build their project in the more prosperous area.” The Seattle Times which did a series on the EB-5 program in the Pacific Northwest says that  “EB-5 capital backs at least $2 billion in current projects in the Puget Sound region.”  

In 2013, the SEC alleged that a McAllen, Texas, company with government approval to participate in the EB-5 program pocketed investors’ cash and never got anyone a visa. Judge Randy Crane of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an injunction restricting the company, USA Now, from raising funds from prospective immigrants.

That same report notes that the SEC had also filed a lawsuit against a Chicago developer who allegedly duped dozens of Chinese investors out of close to $150 million by pretending to build a hotel and convention center through an EB-5 regional center.

This past August, Lobsang Dargey, reportedly an impoverished Tibetan monastery student once who has become a well-to-do real-estate developer in Washington state faced civil fraud charges related to the EB-5 program. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused him of misappropriating anywhere from $17 million to more than $50 million of the would-be Chinese immigrants’ money for his personal use or unapproved expenditures.

Early this month, the National Law Review reported that a civil action was also filed by the SEC against EB5 Asset Manager, LLC and its owner Lin Zhong in the United States District Court of Southern Florida. The SEC alleges that since at least March 2011, Zhong has used several entities that she owns and controls to exploit the EB-5 program, defrauding at least 17 investors out of $8.5 million.

Excerpt from LAT:

 [T]he private firms that get federal permission to create regional centers design their own districts, which Feinstein’s office argues has led to gerrymandering by tethering high-unemployment neighborhoods to wealthy ones. Remember, EB-5 visas are available for $500,000 invested in high-unemployment or rural areas; otherwise, the investment must be $1 million. So the gerrymandering allows wealthy immigrants to gain Legal Permanent Resident status by making what amounts to a two-year, $500,000 loan to an investment pool building a high-end hotel in a ritzy part of town that is connected, on paper, to a neighborhood with more risk and a higher need for investment. It’s hard in that scenario not to see the program the way Feinstein does — as selling citizenship.

The EB-5 program will expire on December 11 unless extended by Congress.  On November 4, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) penned an op-ed saying the program should not continue.  “The bottom line is that the EB-5 regional center program sends a message that American citizenship is for sale, and the program is characterized by frequent fraud and abuse.”

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