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(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is expanding a crackdown on a little-known program to dole out visas to wealthy foreigners in exchange for investments that generate jobs.
The SEC is preparing sanctions against as many as two dozen immigration lawyers, people familiar with the matter said, for collecting deal fees from foreign investors seeking access to the EB-5 visa program, which grants U.S. residency for $500,000 investments that create 10 jobs.
The lawyers were prohibited from earning transaction fees because they weren’t registered as brokers, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the investigations aren’t public.
The EB-5 program has been scrutinized by federal agencies in recent years for potential security risks and investment fraud. The program, more than two decades old, has been criticized for failing to create jobs. In a 2014 report, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security found that administrators were unable to show that the EB-5 program was boosting the U.S. economy.
The number of EB-5 visas issued by the U.S. has soared recently. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office gave out 10,692 of the residency permits in fiscal 2014, according to the State Department, a 25 percent increase from a year earlier.
The EB-5 program was signed into law in 1990, while the U.S. economy was in a recession. Over the next two decades, Congress tweaked the program several times, generally with an eye toward making it easier to get the visa.
When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his administration sought to make greater use of the program to create jobs and spur growth after the financial crisis.
Labour’s Balls Calls for Tough Bonus Laws After HSBC Scandal
The U.K. opposition Labour Party’s finance spokesman, Ed Balls, said allegations of tax evasion at HSBC Holdings Plc show there’s a need to defer bankers’ bonuses for at least 10 years.
The publication of details of how HSBC’s Swiss unit handled accounts for tax evaders and criminals before 2007 sparked a political outcry, throwing Britain’s biggest lenders into the cross-hairs of lawmakers less than three months before the general election.
In addition to clawbacks to punish misconduct, Labour would levy a one-time tax on bankers’ bonuses to help fund paid starter jobs for young people out of work for a year or longer, according to a paper published by the party. It also wants a British investment bank to help fund small- and medium-sized businesses and to create two new banks and increase competition among lenders.
Balls said current proposals to claw back bonuses are too weak.
Simon Walker, the director general of the Institute of Directors lobby group, said in an e-mailed statement that while banks “must respond constructively” to Labour’s proposals, “10 years is a long time for a bonus to be vulnerable, and clawbacks of this length should be reserved to matters where there is a significant ongoing risk.”
EU Watchdog Says Governments Can’t Interfere in Tax-Deal Probes
A European Union investigation into tax deals struck by multinational companies in countries including Luxembourg and the Netherlands is being conducted in “complete independence” from national governments, EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager told EU lawmakers.
“Investigations of competition matters are conducted exclusively by the directorate-general for competition under the authority of the commissioner in charge of competition” and “none of the members have veto powers,” said Vestager.
Vestager was responding to a question about the “seriousness” of her probes into tax deals struck across the EU and in Luxembourg in light of the former role of her boss, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, as Luxembourg’s prime minister.
--With assistance from Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg, Richard Partington in London and Alan Katz in Washington.
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