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Foreign Investors Learn 'Bridge to Nowhere' Leads to Visas after All


For a while, it looked like a major highway project across Lake Washington could end up as a "bridge to nowhere" for nearly a hundred immigrant investors.

But now, after a long wait, the federal government has given the green light to process the green card applications of these wealthy businesspeople in exchange for their help financing the new 520 floating bridge.

A provision of immigration law allows well-to-do foreigners to invest their way to American citizenship. The first step is to sink at least half a million dollars into a job creating business.

More than 20 middleman companies have sprung up around the Northwest to facilitate such foreign investment in local projects. One of these, Lacey-based Access the U.S.A., brokered the sale of nearly $50 million worth of bonds for a replacement floating bridge between Seattle and its eastern suburbs. 

But then the buyers of those bonds, most of whom are Chinese, found themselves in bureaucratic limbo.

"We waited 20 months, so (there was) quite a delay,” said Mike Mattox, head of Access the U.S.A. “There were so many rumors, both in the U.S. and in China. They were saying, ‘This project can't make it. It won't be approved.’ All these things."

Mattox turned down requests for refunds. He said he and the green card seekers were about to go to federal court to demand the U.S. immigration agency make a decision when, without explanation, the approval came. 

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.