Orlando City(ORLANDO, Fla.) — While refs are handing out yellow and red cards to misbehaving soccer stars, wealthy foreigners in expensive seats at Orlando, Florida’s newest soccer stadium could be seeing their own Green Cards, courtesy of the U.S. government, after dropping $500,000 into a controversial immigration program for the rich.
Major League Soccer’s Orlando City club is the first major sports team to use the EB-5 visa program to help fund its planned state-of-the-art, 25,500-person stadium, currently under construction, according to a report by The New York Times.
The EB-5 program is a fast-tracked path to residency in the U.S. that begins with an offer to a wealthy foreign national to invest half-a-million dollars in an approved project and receive legal status to live in the U.S. for two years. If the investment is shown to have created 10 American jobs, the investor can receive a much-sought-after Green Card — permanent residency.
Advocates say the program creates thousands of American jobs and supports a wide range of business ventures that may have never gotten off the ground. But some critics say the program amounts to little more than the sale of U.S. residency to the rich over those with less means, and could represent a dire security threat.
The EB-5 program was the subject of an ABC News investigation in which whistleblowers said it was being used by immigrants suspected of involvement in fraud, money laundering and child pornography and could be exploited by spies or even terrorists. For instance, as ABC News reported in February 2015, an internal Department of Homeland Security document said officials had begun looking into the possibility that the EB-5 program was “abused by Iranian operatives to infiltrate the United States.”
Months later, Senior Special Agent Taylor Johnson in the Department of Homeland Security said she found visa applicants from China, Russia, Pakistan and Malaysia who had been approved in as little as 16 days, even though their applications “lacked basic law enforcement screening.”
“During the course of my investigation it became very clear that the EB-5 program has serious security challenges,” she told lawmakers in June 2015.
Flavio Augusto da Silva, majority owner of the Orlando City club, defended the use of the program.
“For us, it was a business decision,” he told The New York Times. “There was already a demand from people who want to move to the U.S., have a Green Card and have a good opportunity to participate in the growth of the club.”
Orlando’s mayor, Buddy Dyer, said the deal appeared to be a “win-win-win for everybody,” according to the Times.
The Times reported that in addition to the government benefits of the EB-5 program, investors in the stadium will also receive club seats for 10 seasons. Thirty investors already are involved, ponying up $15 million — about 10 percent of the projected cost for the stadium.
A spokesperson for Orlando City confirmed the Times report but declined to comment further to ABC News.
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