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Kushner Family Pitch To Chinese Investors Highlights Controversial Visa Program


Over the weekend, a pitch in China to Chinese investors made a lot of headlines here in the U.S. That's because Kushner Companies was making the pitch. It's the family business of President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. And the sell in Beijing involved a controversial visa program known as EB-5. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: In a ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Beijing, Nicole Kushner Meyer made a presentation to potential investors. Emily Rauhala is a reporter for The Washington Post who was there in the ballroom. She spoke with MORNING EDITION.


EMILY RAUHALA: She opened with an anecdote about her family saying, you know, we started out as refugees, and we've since, you know, made it. And I think, you know, the implications since she was addressing a group of potential investors and immigrants was that, you know, they could make it, too, if they invested with Kushner Companies.

KEITH: These sorts of pitches are not uncommon. Through what's known as the EB-5 Investor Visa Program, foreign nationals from China and elsewhere can get on a path to U.S. citizenship after investing as little as $500,000 in real estate and other projects in the U.S. Muzaffar Chishti with the Migration Policy Institute explains.

MUZAFFAR CHISHTI: If you promise to invest that much money and you created 10 jobs, then you would enter as a temporary immigrant for a period of two years.

KEITH: And eventually that could lead to a green card and even citizenship. The program was created in the 1990s to boost jobs in areas that are rural or have high unemployment. But it languished until 2008 when the Great Recession dried up more traditional forms of financing.

STEVE PARK: Really that's when EB-5 took off as a viable and robust means to find real estate projects, basically.

KEITH: Steve Park is a partner at the law firm Ballard Spahr and specializes in the EB-5 program, working on both real estate projects and even with some manufacturers.

PARK: And they were going to hire around, like, 200 people, 200 full-time employees over the course of two years with the help of EB-5 financing.

KEITH: About 10,000 visas are now awarded through the program annually, but the program's rapid expansion has also led to concerns of fraud and abuse. Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has been one of the leading voices sounding the alarm.


CHUCK GRASSLEY: Should this program be fixed, or should it be nixed?

KEITH: That was Grassley at a hearing a year ago voicing frustration after Congress used a government funding bill to reauthorize the program without making any changes.


GRASSLEY: How many more intelligence reports are needed to understand the problem? How many more whistleblowers are going to be demoted for speaking the truth? How many more projects in Midtown Manhattan at the expense of rural America need to be highlighted? How many more headlines are needed before the program's going to be fixed?

KEITH: The Kushner family's attention-grabbing pitch meeting came just a day after President Trump signed a government funding bill that again reauthorized the EB-5 program without addressing any of the senator's concerns.

California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein says it should be nixed, arguing the program sends a message that visas and U.S. citizenship are for sale. And she's using the case of the Kushner family business to bolster her argument. Kushner's lawyer says he has no financial interest in the project that was being pitched in China and that he will recuse himself from matters involving the EB-5 visa program. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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