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The Visa Business

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It was a good day for those who had served as Iraqi translators/interpreters,  although it passed largely unnoticed.  The day was October 4, 2013.  That was the day President Obama signed an extension of the special immigrant visa program for  them.  It extended the program until the end of 2013.  The Act provided for what were called “Special Immigrant Visas.”  They were for Iraqi nationals who had served as translators or interpreters for or on behalf of the United States government.  When Congress initiated the fast-track immigrant visa program in 2008 in order to permit translators and interpreters to enter the U.S., the visa applications were supposed to be turned around within 9 months.  It has not turned out that way.

According to Katherine Reisner of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center, as of March 15, 2015, more than 1,800 Iraqis’ applications remain in limbo and many of these have been waiting 5 ½ years.  Captain Doug Vossen who served two tours in Iraq said his translator, who is awaiting a visa, served as his protector and adviser, but now that the promised visa has not appeared, he is in hiding in Iraq with his family fearing for his life.  “He was there, risking his life when the United States Government came calling.  And now, when he is at the end of his rope, completely desperate for him and his family, we’re not returning the favor? Just not right.”

Captain Vossen is right and things may be getting worse.  That’s because on November 19, 2015, the House passed an anti-refugee bill that, if it becomes law, will increase the difficulties already faced by Iraqi personnel who were promised visas at the conclusion of the part of the Iraq conflict that ended in 2008.  Although the intent of the bill is to slow down the almost non-existent admission of Syrian refugees into this country, as drafted it would further delay the admission of those Iraqis who helped the United States during the war. When the bill passed the House, there was uncertainty as to whether or not it would be considered by the Senate.  The uncertainty is gone.

On January 18, 2016, it was announced that the Senate would take up the legislation during one of the rare times in 2016 that it will find the time to act as a legislative body.  Although Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, has stated that the legislation has no chance of attracting sufficient democratic support in the senate to be passed, if he is wrong and it becomes law, those Iraqis who were promised visas will be able to quietly wait to see if ever the United States will honor the commitment it made to them at the end of the war.  (Nine Iraqi interpreters sued the U.S. Government in March 2015 order to get their visa status resolved. That suit is pending.)

There are other potential immigrants who are anxiously waiting to learn if their ability to obtain visas is in jeopardy.  The answer for them is not to worry. These people are the beneficiaries of the EB-5 visa program. Under the EB-5 program foreign investors who invest $500,000 in a new U.S. commercial enterprise in a “targeted employment area “ are able to obtain green cards for themselves and visas for two family members.

As an alternative to investing $500,000 in a “targeted employment area”,  investors may invest $1 million in any new U.S. commercial enterprise irrespective of where it is located.  Because of the way the program is structured, an investor may build a luxury project but nonetheless qualify for the benefits with only a $500,000 investment by building it adjacent to a “targeted Employment Area”.  What we learn from the foregoing is that money talks-courage doesn’t, at least when it comes to getting visas.

Senator Charles Grassley and others have long urged that the program be overhauled because of abuses in how it operates. That didn’t happen.  Instead, towards the end of December, before Congress went on vacation for the holidays, it acted to extend the EB-5 program until September 30, 2016. That will give Congress a chance to see how the program can be improved. It also gives foreign investors additional time to get their EB-5 visas.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi translators in Iraq who live in fear for their lives because of the assistance they gave the United States during the war and the subsequent failure of the United States to honor its promises, can wait an indeterminate time for admission to the country they helped.

Go figure.

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