US Immigration

How the Kushner family’s ‘golden visa’ pitch in China cast doubt on Trump’s tough immigration stance

Robert Delaney says senior adviser Jared Kushner inspired confidence in father-in-law Donald Trump’s administration as it battled historically low trust ratings, until his sister hinted at White House ties in offering a shot at fast-track US citizenship to Chinese investors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 2:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 6:05am

US President Donald Trump’s need to make policymaking a family affair has led to a fire his in-laws are working to put out.

Nicole Kushner Meyer, sister of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, has been using the prospect of fast-track US citizenship to coax Chinese investors into backing her family company’s luxury real estate project in New Jersey.

Kushner family woos Chinese for New Jersey property project with chance of US visa

This was problematic even before Kushner Meyer mentioned to potential investors in Beijing the connection Kushner Companies had to one of Trump’s closest advisers – a move that prompted an apology on Monday.

The EB-5 investor visa programme, which allows property developers and other private entities to offer visas in exchange for investments of US$500,000, was set up in the 1990s to attract foreign investment that would create jobs. But the scheme has been cited as a source of fraud by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. It has been called “citizenship for sale” by leading Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and branded a “security threat” by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.

The Washington-based Brookings Institution, a respected arbiter of government policy effectiveness, cast doubt on the programme in a 2014 report that said: “The stated goal of the EB-5 programme is to stimulate local economic development, but there are scant data available to measure its impact, especially at the local level.” The report went on to recommend numerous changes to the programme that would make the connection between wealthy investor dollars and US jobs more transparent.

Rich Chinese rush to get US investor visas before costs soar

Yet the sister of Trump’s key adviser was plugging the “golden visa” in a Kushner Companies presentation put on at five-star hotels in Beijing, Shanghai and other major Chinese cities.

With immigration now one of the most divisive issues in the US, this is a bigger problem than the fact that Kushner Companies is trying to strengthen its sales pitch to investors with a wink-and-nudge reference to family ties with the White House. With approval ratings of around 40 per cent, a historic low for a president in office for less than six months, Trump doesn’t need this target on his back.

Jared Kushner’s ascension to White House senior adviser had seemed like a good move. His wide-ranging role was lauded by pundits from the middle of the road to the left as a badly needed stabilising factor for the new administration. 

The sidelining of the far-right rhetoric championed by White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon in favour of Kushner’s mild-mannered, centrist approach silenced the constant refrain whispered among Democrats since Trump’s disastrous first few weeks in office: the new president won’t last a year. 

But Trump’s apparent sympathy for developers in need of cash from foreign millionaires, a group that’s close to home literally and figuratively, can only invite critical analysis of his connection with the Kushners.

Trump signed legislation last week that keeps the EB-5 visa programme intact through September in a last-minute deal to keep the federal government running. Defenders might argue that he didn’t have enough time to order changes to EB-5 rules.

US busts fraudulent US$50m investor migration scheme for rich Chinese, including fugitives

Just two weeks ago, Trump issued an executive order that “will call on the departments of labour, justice, homeland security, and state to take prompt action to crack down on fraud and abuse in our immigration system in order to protect workers in the United States and their economic conditions”. It went on to censure policymakers and companies for using loopholes to give visas to unqualified foreigners.

The closest relatives of Trump’s top aide were recorded doing essentially the same thing.

Robert Delaney is a US correspondent for the Post based in New York