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Arizona's recent unveiling of a hard-line immigration law designed to identify and detain undocumented immigrants has sparked a national conversation about what role the federal government should play in addressing the millions of illegal immigrants who call the United States home.
In many ways, Republicans have dominated the debate with renewed calls for effective border security and streamlined deportation procedures.
But, that's not to say Democrats have been silent on the issue.
U.S. Senate contender Jeff Greene echoed a favorite party line in a June 22, 2010, Democratic primary debate when he ruminated over the hurdles faced by would-be immigrants looking to legally work in the United States.
Business-savvy immigrants, in particular, need help navigating convoluted immigrant laws, Greene said.
"We have that program where immigrants come here and they have to bring a million dollars in order to get a green card if they’re going to create jobs," he lamented. "But you know what? If an immigrant comes here and they’re willing to create jobs and they’re willing to contribute to our economy, we have to make it easier for the kinds of immigrants we want, because that is the past of America, that’s our greatness, and that will continue to be our greatness in the future."
Whether immigration contributes to America's greatness is a matter of opinion, but Greene's million-dollar statement caught our attention.
We wondered, what does a green card go for these days?
To be sure, so-called "green cards" are the key to legal life for immigrants in the United States. They are permanent resident cards that serve as evidence that the owner has the right to live and work here. Green card recipients can also petition for visas for other immigrants.
There are multiple paths to obtaining a green card.
The most common starting point for a green card is an employment visa submitted by immigrants who want to legally work in the United States. Other popular applications allow family members to petition for visas for foreign relatives, or allow refugees to seek humanitarian visas.
Other than application fees, most immigrants don't have to put up a large amount of cash to obtain a visa, but they do have to show they will have a job or someone to provide for them.
"The reason is to avoid immigrants from becoming dependent on government assistance," said Sharon Scheidhauer, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman.
Each process carries a different base filing fee, which can range from $355 for a petition for a relative and $1,435 for a petition by an entrepreneur.
Greene singled out the entrepreneur visa in his comments, so we will here, as well.
The EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa can open doors, but it is not cheap. Congress created the application process in 1990 to lure foreign millionaires.
Recipients must invest $1 million in a U.S. business that benefits the economy and creates at least 10 full-time jobs, excluding employment for the visa applicant or the applicant's immediate family. If the investment is made in a targeted employment area, defined as a rural area or an area experiencing unusually high unemployment, the financial requirement drops to $500,000. The applicant must be involved in the daily management of the business and provide evidence that the investment funds were obtained through lawful means.
Despite the many requirements, the investor visa remains an attractive alternative to the traditional green card process, said David Abraham, a University of Miami School of Law professor.
"Those applying as employment visa immigrants must prove that they have a real and good job available that no American can/will fill," Abraham said. But, "if they have money to invest in a job-creating way, there is practically no wait."
Roughly 1,028 immigrants applied for the investor visa last year. Most -- 966 in all -- were approved.
The investor visa, however, does not immediately yield a green card.
Instead, successful applicants are granted conditional residency for two years. After that period, they can apply to have the conditions removed if all requirements have been met.
"Then they become a lawful permanent resident -- otherwise known as a green card holder," said Scheidhauer.
Greene's campaign reiterated his criticism of the investor program.
"Jeff was making the argument that we should change the provisions of the EB-5 visa so that rather than requiring prospective immigrants to bring cash into the country, we should favor those who plan to come and start companies, and extend their visas once they begin hiring American residents," said spokesman Luis Vizcaino.
But it is worth noting that investor visa recipients don't enjoy exclusive rights to job creation. Temporary residents and permanent residents alike can legally start a business and hire workers in the United States.
So, there is some truth to Greene's statement. There is a program where immigrants can funnel $1 million into the U.S. economy in exchange for some legal rights. But successful applicants do not immediately receive a green card as a reward for their investment. And, contrary to Greene's assertion, immigrants don't "have" to participate in this exchange. They can obtain either a visa or a green card through other avenues that would also allow them to create jobs.
We rate this claim Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
Palm Beach Post, Senate Democratic Debate, June 22, 2010.
E-mail interview, Sharon Scheidhauer, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman, June 28, 2010.
E-mail interview, David Abraham, University of Miami School of Law professor, June 29, 2010.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, filing fees page, accessed June 28, 2010.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, green card page, accessed June 28, 2010.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur page, accessed June 28, 2010.
New York Times, "Foreign Millionaires in No Rush to Apply for Visas, U.S. Finds," December 22, 1991.
E-mail interview, Luis Vizcaino, Jeff Greene campaign spokesman, June 29, 2010.
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