As the debt-ceiling crisis causes America to plunge headlong into the lemming-led abyss of a credit default, Congress and the country are reminded of a timeless truth. “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”
In these parlous times, our nation is regularly compared to the nearly deadbeat country of Greece, which tried recently but unsuccessfully to sell off some of its sovereign assets. Fortunately for the U.S., however, the sale of our national patrimony is not imminent. Mount Rushmore, Old Faithful and Lady Liberty are safe, at least for now. Still, America clearly needs more revenue. With pledge-bound Republicans and Tea Partiers having taken tax increases off the table (except when labeled as immigration user fees), the prospect of near-term levies on the domestic population are virtually nil.
Not surprisingly, the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, will hold a hearing July 26, 2011 on “The Economic Imperative for Enacting Immigration Reform” — something I’ve argued in a a slew of blog posts over many years.
Maybe, just possibly, perhaps, cross the fingers, our financial desparation will at last cause a tripartisan immigration consensus to emerge. Even though comprehensive immigration reform (including a path to lawful status for the undocumented) seems a non-starter at present, one revenue-generating reform to the legal immigration system may be the graspable piece of fruit hanging low to the ground.
As a patriotic American, a 35+ year immigration lawyer and former tax attorney, who has learned a few things about exceptionally affluent foreigners, I offer a royalty-free, open-source concept for the Committee to consider.
Enter our deus ex machina: A worthy and viable revenue-raising immigration reform — The $$$ Visa. My proposal for the $$$ Visa is based on fundamental truths about super-rich foreign nationals:
- They enjoy and will pay for special privileges;
- They don’t like unpleasant surprises;
- They consider themselves VIPs who deserve red-carpet treatment;
- They usually don’t want to immigrate because green card status entails U.S. taxation of their worldwide assets and an exit tax for long term residents who later leave America for good;
- They create a passel of jobs by hiring minions of lawyers, accountants, financial advisers, chauffuers, interior decorators, designers, stylists, household workers and security personnel who perform for them an array of quotidian tasks (look up family offices here);
- They seek safety, security and predictability;
- They are fearful of political risks and want to hedge their bets with safe lodging in America as a backup plan;
- They have gobs of disposable income; and
- They are lured to America by its many enticements.
I therefore propose that the $$$ Visa be established as a revenue-raising, jobs-creating vehicle that would permit the ultra-wealthy to help us by helping themselves. Here are the attributes of the $$$ Visa:
- For a nonrefundable filing fee of $1 million made payable to the U.S. Treasury, U.S. consular officers abroad and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers in the U.S. would grant a qualifying foreign citizen, together with his or her spouse and minor children, a $$$ Visa or corresponding $$$ nonimmigrant status, with the visa valid for up to five years on a multiple-entry basis, and each change or extension of status, and each admission period to the U.S. under the visa, granted in two-year increments.
- Neither U.S. consular officers nor USCIS adjudicators would be authorized to delay $$$ Visa issuance by the need to investigate whether the money so paid came from lawful funds. Instead, the Treasury Department under its current “government-wide multisource financial intelligence and analysis network,” known as FinCEN, would establish by regulation the procedure to issue a “certificate of financial eligibility (CFE).” As an inducement to lift the veil on bank secrecy and encourage federal tax compliance, the federal government would make expedited and streamlined CFE issuance available to citizens of countries that have enacted IRS-approved “Know Your Customer” laws (although nationals of other countries could still qualify for the CFE through more routine and likely slower procedures).
- A small portion of the revenues generated from the $$$ Visa would be used to establish a red-carpeted VIP lane at U.S. ports of entry. It’s the least we can do to thank them for their contributions to deficit reduction.
- All of the usual immigration screening procedures would apply to applicants for the $$$ Visa. No drug cartel chief, terrorist with money, pedophile or other personae non grata could enter on this visa.
- IRS tax residency rules will stay the same and apply to $$$ Visa holders who remain in the U.S. for periods that satisfy the “physical-presence” test. Thus, $$$ Visa holders who remain in the U.S. for comparatively short periods would still be classified as nonresidents for income tax purposes while those who stay here longer would be taxed as residents and thereby subject their worldwide income to U.S. taxation.
- Renewals of $$$ Visas for the same validity period as the original grant would be allowed in the U.S. or abroad at an American consular post for another nonrefundable payment to the U.S. Treasury of $1 million.
- The $$$ Visa would provide no path to U.S. citizenship, although such visa holders would still be eligible to attain green card status and to naturalize through other existing legal avenues. Thus, no one could claim that we are selling citizenship.
Critics would likely charge that we are showing preference to the wealthy and privileged. Not so. The U.S. already grants immigration benefits to many individuals of typically modest means, such as battered spouses, victims of human trafficking, asylees, refugees, students on scholarships, lottery winners and a host of temporary workers paid down-to-earth salaries. The $$$ Visa would merely level the polo field.
After all, America, we can easily entice the ultra-wealthy to come to our country by citing our very own famous quotesmith, Mike Hammer, who said: “There are no pockets in a shroud.” Or, Congress, as the author of the quote at the start of this post reminds us: “Take the money and run!”