ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The EB-5 is a visa granted to foreigners who invest half a million dollars in a U.S.-based development project. It's been in the news a lot lately because two weeks ago, the sister of White House adviser Jared Kushner went to China to offer EB-5s to potential investors in a Kushner Companies development. More than 80 percent of all EB-5s issued worldwide go to Chinese investors. We asked our Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz to tell us who they are.
ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Ms. Wang is not rich. She does not own her own business or drive a Ferrari. She embodies none of the stereotypes of a typical EB-5 applicant from China.
WANG: (Through interpreter) Actually, everyone I know has applied for EB-5s. We're just ordinary people. We're not wealthy.
SCHMITZ: Wang meets me in the bar of a hotel in Shanghai's financial district. Wang is not her real name. It's a name she's chosen because she doesn't want to jeopardize her chance at getting a visa.
She's 40. Both she and her husband work for finance companies. Like nearly everyone their age in China, they didn't grow up with money. They studied hard, got into college, worked hard and both have jobs where together they make around 200,000 U.S. dollars a year after taxes. And there's only one reason why they've spent half a million dollars on a U.S. visa.
WANG: (Through interpreter) I'm only doing this for my son's education. He is in a good local school, but all they do is study for tests. The Chinese education system turns everyone into the same type of person.
SCHMITZ: Wang says she and other EB-5 applicants want their children to think more creatively and analytically.
BRYAN WITHALL: I would say 70 to 80 percent of families are actually doing it for their kids' education.
SCHMITZ: Bryan Withall is CEO of Sino Outbound. He's helped nearly 100 Chinese people, including Wang's son, to secure EB-5s.
WITHALL: Having a green card allows these parents to give their kids an extra opportunity. But they can also just as easily come back to China and work. So a lot of parents are just kind of giving that second option to their kids.
SCHMITZ: And that's an option the parents of Grace, another EB-5 visa applicant, have taken. Grace is a name she's chosen because her parents are in the middle of securing a EB-5 visa for her, and they don't want to put that at risk. The 21-year-old left China years ago to attend high school in the American South.
GRACE: It was just me trying to get a different experience and get a maybe better education. But later on, I found myself more used to the life. And also, my family has a Christian background, and we're a Christian family.
SCHMITZ: That last point - being Christian - is important to Grace. She says she and her parents attend an unsanctioned church in China. And they want to live in a country where they can practice their beliefs freely.
She says her father grew up poor and hungry in the countryside. He saved for years to send her to America. She says her parents hope to get that money back someday but making a profit isn't important to them. It's a path to U.S. citizenship that is.
Ms. Wang isn't interested in profits either. She just wants her son removed from a society and an education system she believes to be stifling and unhealthy.
WANG: (Through interpreter) There are so many people like us. In my son's school, which is one of Shanghai's best, I would say 60 to 70 percent of the students are planning to attend college overseas. Their dream is to leave China to go to America.
SCHMITZ: Wang says she's read stories about a new president who's shaking up politics in the U.S. But she thinks the American political and economic systems have strong foundations. From her perch in the finance industry, she sees the cracks in China's system firsthand.
She's fed up with its education system, its air pollution, its lack of a legal system. And she's disturbed by a government that's tightening its grip on money leaving the country. And that's why to her, half a million dollars in return for future generations of her family to live as Americans is a sound investment. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Shanghai.
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