By Rebecca Corral

KCBS_740 SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — A Senate committee Tuesday heard testimony about the security of U.S. visa programs, focusing mainly on the EB-5 visa program that allows wealthy foreign investors to put themselves on a path to United States citizenship.

The investors have to be willing to spend anywhere from $500,000 to more than $1 million. But, there is growing concern about fraudulent EB-5 visas, which were introduced by Congress in 1990.

“Congress was convinced that we needed wealth people to come to the U.S., purely because they are investors, and can contribute to the U.S. economy,” Muzaffar Christi with the Migration Policy Institute said.

Only about 10,000 visas have been logged through the program, but rapid growth in the number of applicants has some taking a closer look.

“The program grew from a couple thousand to ten thousand last year. And, in my opinion, any program that grows that fast must deserve some scrutiny, that you really have to determine where the source of the income is, whether this is actually being used for the development project that these investors claim they are being used, and obviously whether there are any national security concerns” Christi said.

“This was an extremely dormant program until about 2007, there were like (sic) few hundred claimants for this. We thought that if we opened our shores to the millionaires then they’d be trooping down our doors – that didn’t happen. In 2007, frankly, as a result of the huge deficit in states following the recession, many states went abroad to reach out to the communities to see how they could get people interested in these places. There were active outreach efforts,” Christi said.

The program requires the investor to employ ten U.S. employees for two years before they can be considered for permanent residence.

“It has the look that the U.S. is for sale,” Christi said.

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