The aim of the EB5 visa program was to encourage foreign investment and create jobs in the US but critics say it amounts to selling citizenship to the very wealthy

The aim of the EB-5 visa program was to encourage foreign investment and create jobs in the U.S., but critics say it amounts to selling citizenship to the very wealthy.

Wanna be a U.S. citizen? Just bring lots of money

Capitalism, said Noam Chomsky, MIT professor emeritus, philosopher, and social critic, “is basically a system where everything is for sale — and the more money you have, the more you can get.”

Getty Images/Mario Tama

The quote seems tailor made for a government program most people don’t know exists, but which illustrates the difference money can make in attaining something that’s extremely difficult, or impossible, for most foreigners: U.S. citizenship.

OK, say you’re a citizen of almost any nation on the planet, have an impeccable citizenship record, but little money. You can jump through all the application hoops and bureaucracy, and if you’re incredibly lucky, after many years, be granted U.S. citizenship. But for most, probably never.

Conversely, suppose you’re a very wealthy businessman or entrepreneur in China, India, or wherever, and want to become a U.S. citizen. Boy, have we got a deal for you!

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Under the EB-5 visa program, your Uncle Sam grants up to 10,000 visas annually for immigrants who will agree to invest at least $1 million to create or retain at least 10 jobs. If the investment is in a high unemployment or rural area, the tab is a mere $500,000. And they can include a spouse and unmarried children under 21.

Even sweeter, these want-to-be citizens don’t have to actually start a business; they can instead put the money into an investment pool that’s starting a factory or a hotel or a business that will create the requisite jobs.

But wait: It gets better. When the investor has achieved lawful permanent residence status, after two years they can get back the money they put in.

While the aim of the program was to encourage foreign investment and create jobs in the U.S., it languished for years, with only a few hundred applicants. But when it was revised to include the investment pools, the trickle of applications became a flood. So popular did the program become that in 2014 the 10,000 visa limit was reached for the first time.

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Even let’s-build-a-wall presidential contender Donald Trump is reported by Bloomberg.com to be a beneficiary of the program, with wealthy Chinese investors putting money into luxury real estate developments built or managed by his family members or business partners.

And if it’s good enough for The Donald…

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