U.S. Senate Candidates Call For EB-5 Reforms… Culture Change And More Transparency

Aug 1, 2016

Republican Senator John Thune (left) will be challenged by Democrat Jay Williams for a spot in the U.S. Senate.
Credit Contributed Photos

Two U.S. Senate candidates in South Dakota are calling for reforms to the state’s EB-5 program.

The program allows foreign investors who invest at least half a million dollars in businesses in the states to get fast tracked for an American visa.   

It’s hard to find many issues opposing candidates for U.S. Senate agree on, but both Senator John Thune and democratic candidate Jay Williams say the Federal EB-5 program needs reform.

A federal agency is now considering terminating South Dakota’s immigrant investor center.  The center administers the EB-5 program in the state.

U.S. Senator John Thune says more transparency in the regional centers and background checks for those who work with the program are needed…

“It’s a program that’s had a lot of problems,” Thune says. “I think, if it’s going to continue, it needs to be fixed, it needs to be reformed. So, I’m hoping that at least we will be able to find the collective will to make those reforms and to make those changes. I know there are a lot of states who benefit from it. There are a lot of states who are committed to keeping it. But, I just know that it’s had enough problems, which, I think, if it’s going to be continued need to be fixed.”

Thune says there needs to be the legislative will to make those reforms.

Jay Williams is facing Thune in the November election.  Williams says the visa portion of South Dakota’s EB-5 program needs shut down…

“I don’t think the EB-5 program is actually what the problem was or is,” Williams says. “The problem is the administration of it. The South Dakota guys came in and, instead of doing the legitimate thing with EB-5—which is try to promote some investment, foreign investment in a place like South Dakota—they just saw it as a way to sell visas. And I’m not surprised that the investors must be really really unhappy with that.”

Williams contends that a lot of good can come from foreign investment into places like South Dakota, but says the visa program might send the wrong message.

Former state employee Joop Bollen ran the state’s EB-5 regional center as a private business. He faces trial in February for alleged financial misconduct.

Officials say the federal review now underway of South Dakota’s EB-5 visa program could take up to six months.