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Key part of US residency program for investors set to expire

WASHINGTON — A program that has allowed wealthy foreign investors to obtain U.S. residency, and has long been the subject of complaints that it amounts to the wholesale selling of American citizenship, may be coming to a sputtering end.Congressional authorization for a key part of the immigrant investor program was set to expire Wednesday with dim prospects for renewal following the failure of a Senate bill that would have addressed long-standing concerns about inadequate regulation.The bipartisan bill would have created new regulations on a part of the program that makes up the bulk of visa applications and allows money from overseas investors to be pooled into funds to finance large projects around the U.S., often high-end real estate.That effort failed last week when GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham objected to the bill and prevented it from moving through the Senate by unanimous consent, angering the two senior Republican and Democratic lawmakers who authored the legislation.“A narrow subset of big money and corrupt interests has now shown that they would rather kill the program altogether than have to accept integrity programs designed to clamp down on their bad behavior,” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who authored the bill with Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, said on the Senate floor after the objection from Graham.Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said the South Carolina Republican needed more time despite the looming deadline. “He would like to negotiate a long-term compromise with all parties that allows for the program to be successful while improving program integrity.”Despite the bipartisan sponsorship of the bill, the prospects for it being revived, or restoring the authorization without the changes, are uncertain. Lawmakers are wary of the overall program and Republicans in general have become increasingly anti-immigration.U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a component of the Department of Homeland Security that administers the investment visa program, said in a statement that it was evaluating the effects of the lapse in authorization.The agency also said it is considering administrative actions to “modernize and ensure the integrity” of what’s formally known as the EB-5 program.“Our agency fully supports the EB-5 program and the many benefits it provides in boosting jobs, the economy, and particularly in providing assistance to distressed communities with foreign capital investment in the United States,” it said.Congress created the program to encourage investment from overseas and spur job growth in 1990, when the economy was in recession.The program required an investment of $1 million or just $500,000 in areas of high poverty and the creation of at least 10 jobs. In exchange, overseas investors got temporary residency along with their immediate family and could apply later for citizenship.Congress also allowed money from visa applicants to be pooled into “regional centers” that would fund large investments and could comprise several different businesses. The idea was to promote growth in poor or rural areas.But the EB-5 program has enabled the drawing of regional maps that include only pockets of poverty. The result is that funds are often used to create large investment pools to finance luxury real estate projects in New York City, Miami, the San Francisco Bay area and other parts of the country in a way that critics say was not the intent of the program.The program provides 10,000 visas to wealthy foreigners per year, primarily from China and other parts of Asia. Relatively few people start a standalone EB-5 enterprise, so the pooled funds make up the bulk, said David North, a senior fellow at Center for Immigration Studies who has testified to the Senate about the issue.Aside from the optics of essentially selling citizenship, the program has been repeatedly tainted by scandal and authorities have sought to increase oversight of the foreign investors, their sources of income and the proposed investment projects. A Trump administration directive to raise the required investment was recently struck down by a federal court.“Every conceivable scam by every conceivable player is sort of available in this program and I think it well deserves its death,” North said.It has defenders, though. Steve Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, said EB-5 provides valuable benefits to the U.S. “Given our efforts to jump start the economy after the pandemic, it is particularly unfortunate that the Senate failed to extend the program,” he said.

US blocks solar panel materials from China over labor abuses

US blocks solar panel materials from China over labor abuses

The Biden administration says it’s barring from the U.S. market Chinese-made materials that are used in solar panelsBy BEN FOX Associated PressJune 24, 2021, 6:22 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWASHINGTON — Material used to produce solar panels in China will be barred from the U.S. market as part of a broader effort to halt commerce tied to the country’s repressive campaign against Uyghurs and other minorities, the Biden administration said Thursday.U.S. Customs and Border Protection will immediately halt shipments from the Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. Ltd. and its subsidiaries under a law that bans the import of goods produced with forced labor.In addition, the Commerce Department will add six Chinese entities involved in the production of raw materials and components for the solar industry to a blacklist barring them from access to the American market, the administration said.The moves target a relatively small slice of the U.S. import market, but could make it harder to achieve the administration’s renewable energy goals. It reflects an escalation of efforts to use economic leverage to pressure China over its use of forced labor as part of its campaign against ethnic minorities in the country’s far wester Xinjiang region.”Our environmental goals will not be achieved on the backs of human beings in a forced labor environment,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. “We are going to root out forced labor and we are going to use alternative products that are manufactured legitimately in keeping with our values and our commitment to a fair market place.”CBP found evidence that workers there intimidated, threatened and their movement was restricted in its investigation of the of the polysilicon industry in Xinjiang, officials said at a news conference.The U.S. previously banned cotton and tomato imports from Xinjiang amid evidence of forced labor as part of China’s forced assimilation campaign targeting predominantly Muslim minorities in the region, which the Chinese government has denied.The effort to put increased economic pressure on China over the situation in Xinjiang has been gaining momentum in recent months. Canada and Britain have moved to restrict imports over the issue and the Group of Seven major industrial nations agreed at its recent summit to ensure global supply chains are free from goods made under conditions that are akin to modern slavery.China denies allegations that it uses forced labor in Xinjiang or elsewhere and has broadly rejected the consistent and well-documented reports that Uyghurs and other minorities have been detained under brutal conditions, subjected to indoctrination and intensive surveillance intended to force them to assimilate into the dominant Han culture.Members of Congress have for months urged the U.S. to ban Xinjiang-sourced polysilicon, which is used to manufacture the cells that are assembled into solar panels, and some type of enforcement action was expected.CBP is still investigating the extent of Hoshine’s involvement in the U.S. market but direct shipments over the past 2 1/2 years totaled about $6 million while finished goods that include material from the company were about $150 million, said Ana Hinojosa, who runs the agency’s trade enforcement team.That’s a relatively small amount. Solar panel imports totaled about $7 billion last year, comprising about three-quarters of the overall U.S. market, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.Chinese panel manufacturers have largely been shut out of the U.S. market by tariffs. Imports predominantly come from Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand. Those panels, however, could still include wafers made with polysilicon from Xinjiang, though the industry has been working to audit and remove the material from the supply chain, said John Smirnow, general counsel and vice president of market strategy for the association.“The end customers want to make sure that the solar panel that’s going up on their roof is free of forced labor,” Smirnow said.