"The Visa Program leaving hopeful immigrants empty-handed" PBS NewsHour 11/17/2016
SUMMARY: After leaving their home in Pakistan and living in Dubai, Noreen and Shehryar Iqbal aspired to move to the U.S. through the EB-5 Visa program, which grants green cards and eventually U.S. citizenship for large, job-creating investments. Now their life savings are gone and there are no green cards in sight. What happened? Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.
JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour): The so-called EB-5 visa permits foreign nationals to invest in job-creating programs in the U.S. in exchange for permanent residency. But it's been scandal-plagued, leading to calls for reform.
As Congress gets set to tackle some final business before the end of this year, will the program finally get fixed?
Our economics Paul Solman takes a look. It's part of his weekly series, Making Sense.
NOREEN IQBAL: See, in Dubai the thing is, as long as you work in Dubai, you can live in Dubai. But what if you leave the job? We have to go back to Pakistan, which we don't want to.
PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour): Noreen and Shehryar Iqbal thought they had a surefire way to avoid a return to their native Pakistan.
NOREEN IQBAL: It's not a safe country.
SHEHRYAR IQBAL: It's got a lot of security challenges.
PAUL SOLMAN: He's a flight attendant for Dubai's national airline. She was, too, until they had kids. Their plan, sock away enough of their salaries to buy their way into America via the EB-5 visa program, which Grants Green Cards, and eventually U.S. citizenship, to foreigners and their immediate families.
Just invest half-a-million dollars to create at least 10 full-time jobs in either a rural project or an urban area with a high unemployment rate.
NOREEN IQBAL: We saved even the allowance money. I can say that. It's so embarrassing for us to tell somebody that allowance money is for you to eat, but we used to save that also.
PAUL SOLMAN: Oh, you mean the money that the airline would give you.
NOREEN IQBAL: The airline give you on your flight to have your food and everything, we would save that also.
PAUL SOLMAN: And put it away.
NOREEN IQBAL: Put it away.
PAUL SOLMAN: To that, they added Shehryar's small inheritance — his parents had died in a car crash when he was a teenager — and investments they'd made to grow their nest egg.
SHEHRYAR IQBAL: She bought a little studio in a nice upscale area. It's called the Jumeirah Lake Towers. It was generating a very, very good rental income.
PAUL SOLMAN: Are you — you're starting to remember it all? That's what's going on?
NOREEN IQBAL: Sorry.
PAUL SOLMAN: No, no, it's OK.
NOREEN IQBAL: So, we rarely talk about this, because I start to…
PAUL SOLMAN: A lot of tears have been shed over the EB-5 project the Iqbals chose to invest in, one we first covered last year here on Making Sense. The Jay Peak ski resort in Northern Vermont, coupled with plans for a hugely ambitious stem cell manufacturing facility affiliated with a South Korean biotech firm.
But, in April, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged developers Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger with 52 counts of federal securities violations, alleging they'd misused $200 million of EB-5 investor funds, running the ski resort project as a giant Ponzi scheme, and the stem cell project as a total fraud.
The Iqbals, who put down their money on stem cells, have lost not just their half-million dollar investment, but another $65,000 in legal and administrative fees, with not a green card in sight.
We talked to them on their recent visit to the U.S. on tourist visas using their free flight passes.