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Investor Visa Proves Popular with Lawmakers, but Outside Control

Tom Banse

Legislators in Washington state are showing enthusiasm for a federal immigration program that gives green cards to wealthy foreign investors. But state officials discovered during a workshop on Friday that the options for expanding foreign investment in this way are largely outside their control. 

There's a little known back door into the United States, available only to the affluent. It's called the immigrant investor visa, or EB-5. Foreigners can get green cards for themselves and immediate family by sinking at least half a million dollars into a business here. Each investment has to create or save at least 10 jobs. 

Policymakers like the idea of creating jobs at no cost to the public. One of the immigration middlemen at a field workshop in Everett was Greg Steinhauer, president of American Life, Inc. A legislator asked him what can the state do to boost this kind of investment.

"Put pressure on Congress to (renew) the program and streamline it, and stop being so capricious in the way they issue rulings and interpretation of the laws," Steinhauer said.

Steinhauer and other property developers say controversy around immigration is creating uncertainty, and uncertainty is bad for business. 

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.