Donald Trump’s administration has made it harder for foreigners to get US work visas. But the sister of Jared Kushner—Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser—is using her White House connections to lure Chinese investors to help fund a real estate project via a controversial visa program that in essence sells US citizenship to wealthy foreigners.
Over this past weekend, Nicole Kushner Meyer pitched a Jersey City housing development to more than 100 investors in Beijing, according to the New York Times and Washington Post (paywalls). Meyer is a principal at Kushner Companies, which her brother (married to Ivanka Trump) ran before stepping away in order to serve his father-in-law in the White House.
Meyer highlighted her family ties during her presentation. The project, called One Journal Square, “means a lot to me and my entire family,” she was quoted by the Times as telling the Chinese audience. She also delivered her pitch in Shanghai this weekend, where a large photo of Trump was seen at the reception desk.
The pitch events are the latest example of potential conflicts of interest involving China and the Trump administration. In early April, China approved with unusual rapidity trademarks for Ivanka Trump’s line of jewelry, handbags, and spa services. In late March, Kushner Companies ended talks with Anbang Insurance Group—which has ties to the Chinese government—to redevelop a New York office tower, after critics pointed out the potential conflicts on interest.
A $500,000 ticket to US citizenship
Guests at the Beijing event were advised to put their money in the Kushner project via the EB-5 program, which awards foreign investors a two-year visa in exchange for investing at least $500,000 in a development project promising to create at least 10 jobs. Under the program, created in 1990 to stimulate the US economy, there is a good chance of eventually obtaining US permanent residency for the visa holders and their family members.
The program has long been criticized by lawmakers as a path that in essence sells US citizenships to wealthy foreigners. (Other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have similar programs.) Critics contend it’s also plagued by fraud and used for money laundering. Some lawmakers have called for an overhaul or abolishment of the program, but it was recently renewed without changes until the end of September.
Speakers at the Beijing event described Trump as a “key decision maker” on the fate of the EB-5 program, according to the New York Times.
The visa program is especially popular among rich Chinese desperate to move their assets out of their country amid an economic slowdown. In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, the US issued over 10,000 such visas—and 85% of them went to people from China.
“Supported by the government”
The Beijing pitch event for One Journal Square was hosted by a Chinese firm called Qiaowai, which is working with Kushner Companies to secure funding for the project. Qiaowai says on its website (in Chinese only) that the project is the 87th EB-5 project it has marketed in China, and also its second time working with the Kushners.
One Journal Square will include two 66-story towers, 1,476 luxury apartments, and even an onsite veterinarian, according to a promotional page (link in Chinese) on Qiaowai’s website. Construction will kick off during the first quarter of 2018. The project is seeking $1 billion in investment. Organizers aim to get about 15% of that from Chinese investors, capped at 300 people, via the EB-5 program.
“Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States,” reads the tagline on a brochure from the pitch event, according to the Washington Post. A slogan on Qiaowai’s website highlights that the project is “supported by the government” and “created by a star developer.”
Qiaowai is scheduled to hold more pitches for the project in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Wuhan over the next two weeks. Meyer is featured as a big-name guest at all the events.
Reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Reuters were barred from Qiaowai’s pitch events in Beijing and Shanghai. In Beijing organizers even prevented journalists from talking to the investors as they left the event. But a couple of investors did admit to these news outlets that their interest in the project is due partly to the Trump ties.
Neither Kushner Companies nor Qiaowai gave an immediate reply to Quartz’s inquiries. (Update: Kushner Companies issued a formal apology on May 8 that it was not Meyer’s intention to lure investors by mentioning her brother in the pitch events.)