BEIJING — When the sister of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner promoted investment in her family’s new skyscraper from a Beijing hotel ballroom stage earlier this month, she was pitching a controversial American visa program irresistible to tens of thousands of Chinese.
More than 100,000 Chinese have poured at least $24 billion in the last decade into “golden visa” programs across the world that offer residence in exchange for investment, an Associated Press analysis has found. Nowhere is Chinese demand greater than in the U.S., which has taken in at least $7.7 billion and issued more than 40,000 visas to Chinese investors and their families in the past decade.
The flood of investors reflects how China’s rise has catapulted tens of millions of families into the middle class. But at the same time, it shows how these families are becoming restless as cities remain choked by smog and schools impose ever-greater pressure on children.
Their money goes toward government bonds, businesses, mountain ski resorts, new schools and real estate projects. But the industry is murky, loosely regulated and sometimes fraud-ridden – in the U.S., federal regulators have linked the EB-5 visa program to fraud cases involving more than $1 billion in investment in the last four years.
The EB-5 program and many others like it market heavily in China.
Key to investors’ spending power is China’s real estate boom. Real estate prices in China’s largest cities have more than tripled in the last decade. Since late 2015 alone, Beijing’s home prices have jumped 63 percent, making a 1,300 square-foot apartment worth more than $1 million.
A family that owned an ordinary apartment more than a decade ago can now sell it for the price of a “golden visa.” And as their dissatisfaction with China’s problems grows, more families are choosing to do so.
The AP obtained data from 13 countries on how many Chinese have used investor programs since 2007. To estimate money spent, the AP multiplied the numbers of Chinese investors in each country by the minimum investment required, making the AP’s figures for each country an undercount.
The market leader is the United States’ EB-5 program, which gives green cards to anyone who invests $500,000 in a business that creates or saves at least 10 jobs.
The EB-5 program has been criticized by government watchdogs, who say it promotes fraud and helps developers building mega-projects more than struggling communities.
Nicole Meyer, Kushner’s sister, appeared this month at events in Beijing and Shanghai to promote a New Jersey tower project that would be partially funded through EB-5 investment. The presentation included a photo of Trump and vague promises that the project had “government support” and was “founded by celebrity developers.”
The company later apologized for any implication that her brother was supporting the project, and Meyer pulled out of a scheduled presentation in China this past weekend.
How AP collected, parsed investor data
BEIJING — At least two dozen countries offer a new home to people willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a business, real estate or government bonds. And there’s no bigger market for many of them than China.
By The Associated Press’ count, more than 100,000 Chinese have spent at least $24 billion in the last decade to buy residency through investment visa programs.
The AP obtained the numbers of Chinese visa recipients from programs in 13 countries. To estimate total investments, the AP multiplied the yearly number of Chinese investors, excluding family members, by the minimum investment required by each country. Most of the countries in AP’s survey did not provide an official estimate of Chinese investment.
The annual investment totals were converted into dollars based on the average exchange rate for that calendar year. They are not adjusted for inflation, and they don’t include investments that may have exceeded the minimum requirements or fees paid to agents and lawyers.
Not all countries gave the same figures. In some cases, the AP estimated how many Chinese visa recipients were investors rather than family members with the help of government data or experts on investment migration.
- Associated Press