Neil Bush, the younger brother of George W. and Jeb Bush, recently left his position at a Texas company he founded that helps wealthy foreigners obtain green cards, the same type of venture that recently put Hillary Clinton’s younger brother, Tony Rodham, in the spotlight.
While Rodham’s involvement in U.S. Customs and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) EB-5 visa program was already known, Bush’s has so far fallen under the radar. But it is further evidence that the politically-connected, including the siblings of high-profile politicians, appear to be a big draw in the investment-for-visa industry.
President Obama’s half-brother, Mark Obama-Ndesandjo, has also been approached by firms seeking EB-5 investors.
Bush is the founder and retired chairman of the Great Texas Regional Center. His bio on the center’s website says that “he is proud to promote two of his father’s legacies.” That legacy includes “building closer relations between China and the United States and encouraging citizen service,” the bio reads.
According to Texas state corporate filings, Great Texas Regional Center became incorporated on Nov. 16, 2010. Bush is listed as the company’s registered agent. The regional center applied for USCIS’ EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program less than a week later, on Nov. 22, 2010. USCIS approved the application on Dec. 13, 2011.
An employee at Great Texas Regional Center told The Daily Caller that Bush retired from his position there late last year. Asked if that decision was tied to Jeb Bush’s likely presidential bid, the employee declined to comment. A request for comment from Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise PAC was not returned.
With offices in Houston and Beijing, Texas regional center is one of about 400 approved by USCIS to seek out EB-5 investors. The EB-5 program, which started in 1990, allows foreign investors to gain visas for themselves and their families if they invest at least $500,000 in U.S. companies. In return, the privately-run regional centers, which often partner with local developers, are required to create at least 10 jobs.
Approximately 11,000 EB-5 visas were awarded last year, largely to Chinese investors. That is up from the 6,000 visas issued in 2013.
Bush is also on the board of directors at the San Francisco-based American Pacific International Capital (APIC). In Aug. 2010, the company formed APIC Regional Center to seek out EB-5 visa investors. It also registered with a lobbyist, though records show that the firm did not lobby Congress or federal agencies.
On one brochure, APIC promised to create between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs through construction projects in Portland, Ore. over the course of three years.
One of Bush’s EB-5 pitches on behalf of the Great Texas center sheds light on what many believe is one of the visa program’s flaws.
According to a report from a Mexican newspaper in Nov. 2013, Bush gave a presentation to Mexican investors about Aura Cedar Springs apartment complex development in the Dallas area. Bush reportedly told the prospective investors that his family name would increase the odds of them obtaining a green card.
TheDC could not independently verify that report. Bush did not respond to an emailed interview request. Carlos Rosas, a Houston-based attorney mentioned in the article, also did not respond to a request for comment.
In exchange for their $500,000 stake, Bush reportedly told investors that if they signed up for the investment on the spot, they would receive a two percent return on their investment two years into the project. It is unclear how many investors Bush signed up, if any. The Aura Cedar Springs project will soon break ground.
Bush also pitched potential EB-5 investors at the Luxury Property Showcase (LPS) in Shangai in Dec. 2013. The event was described as invitation-only and open to “selected Chinese VIPs.”
“Our participation in LPS was very helpful in developing our network leading to potential investors in China,” Bush said after the convention, according to a report at the time. “LPS is a great platform for international real estate companies to interact with targeted Chinese investors and the show was very well organized and professionally managed. I was very happy to be there and look forward to joining LPS again in the future to further develop our network in China.”
The younger Bush’s involvement with companies that essentially allow foreigners to buy visas (after going through FBI background checks) comes as his brother is poised to run for president. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, is considered by many to be a favorite to win the GOP nomination. His biggest roadblock is his stance on immigration, which is considered softer than both his likely opponents and Republican primary voters.
A request for comment from Bush’s Right to Rise PAC about his brother’s involvement with EB-5 visa firms was not returned.
The EB-5 program — and the regional centers that push it — have been criticized for a number of reasons.
First, immigration advocates lament the fact that while the average foreigner must go through a complex and uncertain process to obtain a green card, EB-5 investors essentially buy their way into the country.
Besides immigration, the value of the EB-5 program to the U.S. economy and regional centers’ tactics have been called into question.
In a report from Dec. 2013, DHS’ inspector general determined that USCIS “cannot demonstrate that the program is improving the U.S. economy and creating jobs for U.S. citizens as intended by Congress.”
The report also noted that there is little oversight of the program. USCIS has almost no power to revoke a regional center’s participation in the EB-5 program if concerns about fraud arise.
The regional center approval process came under more scrutiny recently in the case of a company operated by Rodham. Serving as CEO of Gulf Coast Funds Management, Rodham and his partner, Terry McAuliffe, now the governor of Virginia, pressured then-USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas to help approve EB-5 visa applications for one of their projects, GreenTech Automotive. DHS’ inspector general reported last month that Mayorkas intervened in an “unprecedented” manner to help Rodham and McAuliffe. He also stepped in to help SLS Hotel and Casino at the behest of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (RELATED: DHS Official Gave Special Favors To Hillary Clinton’s Brother)
Regional centers have also been criticized for operating what appears to be nothing more than a scheme for U.S. companies to generate cheap capital in exchange for helping investors obtain green cards.
Names like Bush, Rodham, and Obama sweeten the deal for investors who believe that they will have an easier time obtaining green cards through those political connections.
Mark Obama-Ndesandjo, who has the same father as President Obama, told ABC News earlier this year that he was approached by a firm hoping to drum up EB-5 investments.
“There are always going to be people in China — and in any country for that matter — who will try to use influence and try to use well-known people for business opportunities,” Obama-Ndesandjo told ABC.
“My feeling is that they probably felt that they would be able to get some status from [my name],” he said, adding that he declined the proposal because it made him feel uneasy.
An attorney who drafted legal documents for GreenTech Automotive, Rodham’s project, made a similar observation about the former First Lady’s brother in an interview with Politico last week.
Politico uncovered Rodham’s involvement in the Philadelphia-based Global City Regional Center. Rodham is listed on the regional center’s website as Chief of Global EB5 Investor Relations & Government Affairs.
“From a marketing perspective, people think because a politician is involved, at least in China they think somehow it’s a better project or it’s got more name recognition,” Steven Yale-Loehr, an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, told Politico.
Yale-Loehr helped write up some of the legal documents for GreenTech Automotive.
Like Bush, Rodham also traveled to China to pitch potential EB-5 investors, speaking at the Invest in America Summit held in Shanghai in March 2013.
Bush’s and Rodham’s involvement with EB-5 regional centers are hardly the only business ventures of the political siblings to come under scrutiny. (RELATED: Haiti Gold Mine Owner Invited Hillary Clinton’s Brother To Sit On Board Of Directors After Meeting Him At Clinton Global Initiative Meeting)
Besides his involvement with GreenTech, it was recently revealed that Rodham met the owner of a Haitian gold mining firm at a Clinton Global Initiative event. That firm was awarded a rare gold mining permit. After the permit was revoked, Rodham was brought on as a member of the company’s board of directors. And in 1999, Rodham and his older brother, Hugh, were publicly rebuked for their involvement with a hazelnut business operated by a Russian-backed political boss who opposed Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, a strong ally of the U.S. at the time.
Bush’s past business activities have embarrassed family members as well. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was involved in a controversy surrounding a Colorado savings and loan program. Though he was not indicted, Bush was sued by the FDIC and settled out of court.