Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Foreign Investors Learn 'Bridge To Nowhere' Leads To Visas After All

WSDOT. Viewed from above Medina, Washington, the new SR 520 floating bridge takes shape next to the current bridge.

For a while, it looked like a major highway project across Lake Washington near Seattle could end up as a "bridge to nowhere" for nearly 100 immigrant investors. But now after a long wait, the federal government has given the green light to process the green card applications of these wealthy businesspeople in exchange for their help financing the new SR-520 floating bridge.

A provision of immigration law allows well-to-do foreigners to invest their way to American citizenship. The first step is to sink at least $500,000 into a job-creating business. More than 20 middleman companies have sprung up around the Northwest to facilitate such foreign investment in local projects.

One of these -- Lacey, Washington-based Access the USA -- brokered the sale of nearly $50 million worth of bonds for a replacement floating bridge between Seattle and its eastern suburbs. But then, the head of that company, Mike Mattox, says the mostly Chinese buyers of those bonds found themselves in bureaucratic limbo.

"We waited 20 months, so quite a delay," Mattox says. "There were so many rumors, both in the U.S. and in China. They were saying this project can't make it. It won't be approved, all these things."

Mattox turned down requests for refunds. He says he and the green card seekers were about to go to federal court to demand the U.S. immigration agency make a decision when -- without explanation -- the approval came.

On the Web:

Investing In Citizenship: For The Rich, A Road To The U.S. (Jan. 26, 2013) - NPR 
520 Bridge Paves Path to Citizenship (Dec. 8, 2011) - KUOW 
Access the USA: Washington Regional Center - official site 
Green Card through Investment - USCIS 

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.