Doing Business in Saudi Arabia: Public Bidding on Lucrative Government Contracts

Saudi Arabia Wassem Amin Business

By Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA

The record FY2013 and FY2014 budgets announced by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have received much media attention. The FY2014 budget of Saudi Arabia, for example, sets a record U.S. $228 Billion (SAR 855 Billion) in government expenditures. Foreign companies and businesses who do business with the Saudi Government quickly discover a very rewarding and lucrative market.

Overview

Key expenditures, as announced in a press release by the Saudi Government, will focus on “infrastructure, education, health, social services, security services, municipal services, water and water treatment services, and roads and highways. Moreover, the budget gives particular emphasis to science and technology projects and e-government.”

Specifically, key expenditures have been allocated in the budget for the following major sectors:

  • Education: US $56 Billion – approximately 25% of the budget. This will be used to finance the construction of 539 new schools and 1,900 existing school-construction projects as well the refurbishment of thousands of present educational facilities.
  • Health and Social Affairs: US $28.8 Billion.       This will be used to finance the construction of dozens of new hospitals throughout the Kingdom.
  • Infrastructure and Transportation: US $17.8 Billion – Key planned projects in this sector include finishing work on existing projects, completing construction on highly publicized economic cities, and construction of new sea ports and a cross-country railway service.

U.S. and foreign based companies who are unfamiliar with doing business in Saudi Arabia generally are advised to seek the assistance of a legal advisor who is familiar with the region’s unique laws and culture. Moreover, companies wishing to do business with the Saudi Government should be aware that, as with any national government, it may be a complicated and time-consuming process.   However, with the right guidance, those willing to invest the time and effort will find that there are no shortage of very financially rewarding opportunities – in both the public and private sector.

Rules and Regulations Governing Saudi Public Contracts

Generally speaking, public or government contracts in Saudi Arabia are governed by the Government Tenders and Procurement Law and its implementing regulations (the “Law”). With few exceptions, the Law requires Saudi government entities to procure products and services through a public bidding process. A government agency is required to prepare and advertise a Request for Tenders (“RFT”) and advertise it in the Saudi Official Gazette and in at least two local newspapers for a minimum period of either 30 or 60 days–depending on the value of the project.

The exceptions to the public requirement are relatively few. Exempt from the public bidding requirement, direct procurement applies to the following sectors: military and defense equipment; consultancy services; unique products or services; and urgent medical supplies in a response to an epidemic.

To be eligible to enter the public bidding process, the bidder must post a bank guarantee equal to 1% of the project’s value. Within ten days of being awarded the project, the winning contractor must provide the respective government agency with an unconditional performance bond equal to 5% of the contract’s value. Usually, the performance is issued by a Saudi bank and must be valid for the duration of the project.

Who is Eligible to Submit Bids?

The Law indicates that any bidder licensed to do business in Saudi Arabia is eligible to participate in the process. At first glance, it may appear that a foreign company that has undergone the licensing process in Saudi Arabia (discussed in previous posts) is technically eligible to bid on public projects. However, a thorough reading of the Law and its implementing regulations proves otherwise. The Law and its implementing regulations require the bidder to hold a variety of certificates that can only be held by a Saudi business – such as, but not limited to, a commercial registration certificate, a classification certificate, a tax certificate, a Saudization certificate, and a foreign investment license if the bidder has any foreign capital. Many of those required licenses and certificates can only be obtained if the bidder is at least partially-owned by a Saudi national.

Selecting a Local Agent or Partner

Therefore, the most common, and effective, way for a foreign company to bid on public projects is by establishing a partnership or agency agreement with a local business. A key issue for foreign companies then becomes how to identify a local business partner that, not only adds value, but meets the various requirements of the Government Tenders and Procurement Law. In our experience, identifying the right partner is oftentimes detrimental to a foreign company’s success or failure in Saudi Arabia. Substantial due diligence and vetting is a critical component of this process. Generally speaking, a local partner should have prior experience and a successful track record working with the government agency that is awarding the contract.

The challenge is that public information on private businesses in Saudi Arabia is rare, if not impossible, to find. Therefore, utilizing a legal or advisory firm that has first-hand experience in the region is oftentimes critical. An experienced advisor would be able to identify, and vet, potential partners in the region and assist the foreign company with negotiations and legal registration requirements.

Saudi Arabia has pursued an open and liberal investment policy by welcoming and encouraging both domestic and foreign investment. The objective of Saudi Arabia’s policy is to achieve diversification by gradually reducing dependence on one source of income. The massive infrastructure and expenditure projects announced by the Saudi government present opportunities for foreign companies in virtually every major sector. However, the cultural, political, and legal landscape is complex and varies dramatically from that of countries such as the USA or in Europe. Unaccustomed foreign companies or investors should seek out advisory or legal firms who are proficient and have expertise in Saudi Arabia.

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Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Wassem M. Amin, Esq. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. The material posted on this web site is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Associate Attorney at Dhar Law LLP in Boston, MA and is the Vice Chairman of the Middle East Committee as well as the Islamic Finance Committee of the American Bar Association’s International Law Section. Wassem has extensive experience in the Middle East region, having worked as a consultant in the area for over 10 years. Wassem currently focuses his practice on International Business Transactions and Business Immigration (EB-5 Regional Center and Investor Representation). For more information, please visit the About Us page or http://www.dharlawllp.com.

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Using EB-5 Regional Centers to Raise Capital for Non-Real Estate Projects

 EB-5 Immigrant InvestorBy Wassem Amin, Esq., MBA

Many people wrongly assume that the EB-5 Regional Center program is only feasible for real estate developments.  While it is true that the majority of Regional Center projects have been real estate developments, the program has also been successfully used to raise EB-5 capital for projects in diverse industries such as biotech, manufacturing, clean energy, and franchises.  This article examines the various ways, outside of the real-estate-development context, that an EB-5 Regional Center can be structured.  The EB-5 Visa category allows a foreign investor to become a permanent resident in the United States if they invest either $500,000 or $1,000,000 and meet other requirements.  A Regional Center is an entity approved by USCIS that is established to develop a commercial enterprise using EB-5 capital.

The EB-5 Regional Center can also be structured to function as a holding company or a mutual fund, enabling the deployment of funds across many projects and even the reinvestment of funds from one project to another.  These structures are typically used by those in the financial services industry.  As discussed below, the only issue to keep in mind is the ability to track job creation to each investor.  Notwithstanding that, there is virtually no limitations on the structure of the Regional Center and the industry or project it is used for.

At the outset, no matter what structure is used, the basic requirements of a Regional Center and EB-5 Investment must be met (e.g., 500K or $1MM minimum per investor, 10 jobs per investor, etc.)  The benefit of using a Regional Center is the ability to meet the jobs requirement through not only direct (i.e., W-2) jobs, but also indirect and induced jobs, using an econometric forecast analysis.  This allows a prospective Regional Center flexibility in meeting that requirement.

In terms of structuring the Regional Center, it can be structured several ways.  First, it is possible to structure the Regional Center as a holding company, where the business plan would provide for investments in multiple job-creating businesses over time.  That structure would be allowed under current USCIS regulations and would also allow the commercial enterprise (the holding company) to move money from one job-creating business to another.  The key here is the business plan submitted to USCIS – it must sufficiently detail the proposed multiple investment activities and specifically provide for investments in multiple job-creating businesses over time.  The business plan must also demonstrate that the requisite jobs will be created through the succession of capital investments through the holding company.

Second, in the EB-5 Regional Center context, a “fund of funds” (mutual fund) model may be feasible where the EB-5 money is invested and disbursed across a number of projects.  In that structure, the business plan and documentation must be able to adequately track each individual EB-5 investor’s capital investment into the commercial enterprise (the fund) and then into the job-creating investment projects.  This is necessary because USCIS must be able to make a determination as to whether each alien’s investment was sustained and to determine the allocation of jobs among the multiple EB-5 investors.

Finally, a private equity strategy is also an acceptable fund structure, but, again, USCIS advises that the level of complexity needs to be well documented to include easily recognizable job creation estimates.

In any of these models, it is important to note that the start-up expenses incurred in establishing a holding company or mutual fund that will not create jobs but will rather invest in other entities that will create jobs for U.S. workers cannot be counted in determining whether the investor has made the minimum investment.  However, as with the case with any Regional Center structure, administrative fees that may be charged to each investor, which are in addition of the minimum investment, may be used to recoup start-up expenses and operating costs. These fees typically range from 35,000 to 65,000.

These are just a few of the different ways a Regional Center could be structured in order to make it feasible for use in various, non-real estate, industries.  The level of complexity is only limited by the project’s ability to track job creation to each investor throughout the period required by USCIS.

The EB-5 Regional Center program is a very attractive option to raise capital after, of course, determining the feasibility of the underlying project.  Past regional centers have raised anywhere from $1,000,000 to almost $300,000,000 in EB-5 Funds.
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Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Wassem M. Amin, Esq. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice.  The material posted on this web site is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Associate Attorney at Dhar Law LLP in Boston, MA and is the Vice Chairman of the Middle East Division as well as the Islamic Finance Committee of the American Bar Association’s International Law Section.  Wassem has extensive experience in the Middle East region, having worked as a consultant in the area for over 9 years.  Wassem currently focuses his practice on Corporate Law and International Business Transactions.  For more information, please visit the About Us page or request more information on our Contact Us page.

Real Estate Development: Raising Capital Through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program

Real Estate Development Using EB-5 Immigrant Investor Capital

By Wassem Amin, Esq., M.B.A.

Over the past couple of years, the use of EB-5 Regional Centers by project developers to raise capital has been increasing in popularity.  A designation as a Regional Center by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) allows a project developer, or an entity on behalf of a project developer, to raise capital from foreign investors seeking an EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa.

The increased interest in EB-5 investments has been attributed to a combination of factors including: (1) the overhaul of the program by USCIS and the creation of a dedicated EB-5 adjudication department; (2) the decrease in domestic investment capital after the 2008 recession; and (3) the increased political instability in foreign countries leading many high-net worth immigrants to relocate to the United States.

Utilizing Regional Centers as a source of funding for project developments is an attractive option due to the typically low cost of capital to the developer as well as the ability to generate a profitable revenue stream from administrative fees charged to the immigrant investors.  In addition, administrative fees generated from a Regional Center typically offset the up-front costs involved.

Investing through a Regional Center is attractive for foreign investors because the investment is usually held in an irrevocable escrow account pending the approval of their initial application with USCIS (Form I-526).  Upon the approval of the I-526 Application, the funds are released to the developer and the investor is issued conditional permanent residency.  This ensures that, in the unlikely event the foreign investor is denied by USCIS, they are refunded their investment.  As an additional layer of protection, a comprehensive questionnaire is typically used to qualify the foreign investor and determine their eligibility beforehand.  That way, the Regional Center would be able to suggest alternative investments to potential foreign investors who may not be approved by USCIS.

What are Regional Centers?

USCIS defines a Regional Center as “any economic entity, public or private, which is involved in the promotion of economic growth, improved regional productivity, job creation and increased domestic capital investment.”  A Regional Center could be independent of the actual project or created in connection with a specific development.  Regional Centers are set up to act as intermediaries between foreign investors and EB-5 eligible projects in the United States.  To apply for Regional Center designation, a Form I-924 is submitted to USCIS, and processing times are between 4-8 months.

A range of different real estate projects have qualified for regional center status, including shopping malls, hotels, mixed use developments, warehouse distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, and business incubators. Because the key thrust of the Regional Centers is to create jobs, many regional centers are sponsored by or work extensively with local governments in a form of public-private partnership, but this is not a requirement.

In order to obtain approval from USCIS for designation as a Regional Center, the entity has to submit a proposal which must:

  1. Clearly describe how the center focuses on a geographic regions of the United states and how it will promote economic growth through improved regional productivity, job creation, and increased domestic capital investment;
  2. Provide in verifiable detail how jobs will be created indirectly;
  3. Provide a detailed statement regarding the amount and source of capital which has been committed to the Regional Center, as well as a description of the promotional efforts taken and planned by the sponsors of the Regional Center;
  4. Contain a detailed analysis regarding the manner in which the center will have a positive impact on the regional or national economy in general, as reflected by such factors as increased household earnings, greater demand for business services, utilities, maintenance and repair, and construction both within and without the Regional Center; and
  5. Be supported by economically or statistically valid forecasting tools, including, but not limited to, feasibility studies, analyses of foreign and domestic market for the goods or services to be exported, and/or multiplier tables.

The Job Creation Requirement

The EB-5 visa has two different minimum investment requirements, depending on whether the geographic location of the investment is a Targeted Employment Area (“TEA”).  A TEA is an area that is in a rural location (as determined by each specific state) or an area with an unemployment rate of at least 150% of the national average.  If the investment is in a TEA, the minimum amount per each immigrant investor is $500,000.00.  If it is not in a TEA, then the minimum amount is $1,000,000.00.

Each foreign investor must demonstrate that their investment has created (or will create within two years) a minimum of 10 full-time jobs for U.S. persons  (a permanent resident or a citizen).  This requirement is the same whether the investment is within or outside of a TEA—i.e., whether the investment is $500,000 or $1,000,000.  However, if the investment is through a Regional Center, indirect (and induced) jobs may be counted.

To establish that 10 or more indirect or direct jobs will be created by the business, USCIS rules provide that indirect methodologies may be used, which may include multiplier tables, feasibility studies, analyses of foreign and domestic markets for the goods or services to be exported, and other economically or statistically valid forecasting devices which indicate the likelihood that the business will result in increased employment.

For example, if a multitenant shopping center is designated as a regional center, the full-time jobs created by the ownership and management of the shopping center are directly created jobs.  The jobs created by the tenants of the shopping center are indirect jobs. There may be 5 or 10 full-time positions created by operating a property management office, but the jobs created by the tenants of the shopping center could be over 100, and those jobs would all be counted to satisfy the job creation requirement. For these reasons, in a regional center, it is much easier for the investor to meet the employment requirements. Further, if more jobs are counted in the business, more EB-5 investors can participate in the project, resulting in more funding for the developer.

Structuring the Regional Center: Investment Models and Exit Strategies

The creation and management of a Regional Center will require expertise in the following areas: (1) EB-5 process; (2) immigration law; (3) equity fund structuring; (4) transaction due diligence and structuring; (5) economic analysis; and (6) marketing.  Dhar Law LLP is able to assist with all of the above—except the marketing.  In addition, while the economic analysis will be conducted under our supervision, it will be primarily done by an economist within our network who specializes in EB-5 Regional Centers.  An additional requirement is having access to pipeline of foreign investors sufficient to meet the capital requirements of the project.

As for the investment models, EB-5 investments are generally one of two high-level models: an Equity Model or a Debt Model.  In the Equity Model, the investor acquires an ownership interest in the development project, entering as limited partner.  This is a well-established model with a track record of USCIS approvals and is currently the primary strategy for EB-5 investments.  At the end of the specified term (generally five years, but could be less), the EB-5 investor’s interest in the project is sold to other interested parties.  The proceeds from the sale are returned to the investor.  Complications could arise in the sale of the equity, so the return of investments is not guaranteed.

In the Debt Model, the investor also joins as a limited partner, but provides a low-interest term loan to the project developer rather than acquiring a stake in the project.  Repayment of the principal is made either through sale of the project or refinancing of the EB-5 loan at the end of the term (also generally five years).  This model, while it has received approvals from USCIS, is still fairly new and may undergo greater scrutiny.  The issue is whether Debt Model projects guarantee repayment to the investor—which is not allowed under EB-5 regulations because the invested capital must be “at risk.”

For example, if a new commercial enterprise’s limited partnership (LP) agreement contains a buy-back agreement (i.e. a redemption clause guaranteeing the return of the investor’s capital investment), then the investor’s capital investment will not be a qualifying “at-risk” investment for EB-5 purposes. Likewise, if the LP agreement requires the payment of fees from the investor’s capital investment to the extent that the investment will be eroded below the qualifying level, preventing the full infusion of the capital into the job creating enterprise, then the investor’s capital investment will not meet the required EB-5 level of investment.

Initial Evidence and Documents Required by USCIS

  1. Location of Regional Center: The Regional Center must focus on a specific geographical area.  This area must be contiguous and clearly identified in the application by providing a detailed map of the proposed geographic area of the Regional Center.
  2. Creation of Jobs:  Each Regional Center must fully explain how at least 10 new full-time jobs will be created by each individual alien investor within the Regional Center either directly or indirectly.  The applicant must provide an economic analysis that relies on statistically valid forecasting tools that shows and describes how jobs will be created for each industrial category of economic activity. The job creation analysis for each economic activity must be supported by a copy of a business plan for an actual or exemplar capital investment project for that category.
  3. Business Plan: A business plan provided in support of a regional center application should contain sufficient detail to provide valid and reasoned inputs into the economic forecasting tools and must demonstrate that the proposed project is feasible under current market and economic conditions.  The form of the EB-5 investment from the commercial enterprise into the job-creating project (equity, debt, etc.) should be identified.  The business plan should also identify any and all fees, profits, surcharges, or other similar remittances that will be paid to the regional center or any of its principals or agents through EB-5 capital investment activities.
  4. Infusion of Capital: The application must be supported by a statement from the principal of the Regional Center that explains the methodologies that the Regional Center will use to track the infusion of each EB-5 alien investor’s capital into the job-creating enterprise, and to allocate the jobs created through the EB-5 investments in the job creating enterprise to each associated alien investor.  The anticipated minimum capital investment threshold (either $1,000,000 or $500,000) for each investor must also be identified.
  5. Operational Plan: The application must be supported by a detailed description of the past, present and future promotional activities for the Regional Center.  It must include a description of the budget for this activity, along with evidence of funds committed to the Regional Center for promotional activities.  The plan of operation must also address how investors will be recruited and how the Regional Center will conduct its due diligence to ensure that all immigrant investor funds affiliated with its capital investment projects will be obtained from lawful sources.
  6. Prospective Economic Impact: The application must be supported by a general prediction of the prospective impact of the capital investment projects sponsored by the Regional Center, regionally or nationally, with respect to increases in household earnings, greater demand for business services, utilities, maintenance and repair; and construction both within and outside the Regional Center.
  7. Organizational Structure: The application must fully describe and document the organizational structure of the regional center.  In addition, it should be accompanied by the capital investment offering documents, business structure, and operating agreements of the proposed commercial enterprise that will be affiliated with the Regional Center is compliant with EB-5 statutory and regulatory requirements, as well as binding EB-5 precedent.  A common business structure is summarized in the chart below.EB
  8. Investment Offering Documents: Documentation of the capital investment offering documents must include, at a minimum, the following:
    • A description and documentation of the business structure of both the regional center and the commercial enterprises that are or will be affiliated with the regional center, such as Articles of Incorporation, Certificate of Incorporation, or legal creation as a partnership or limited liability company (LLC), partnership or LLC agreements, etc.;
    • Draft subscription agreements for investment into the commercial enterprise;
    • Draft escrow agreements and instructions, if any;
    • List of the proposed financial institutions that will serve as the Escrow Agent, if any;
    • Draft of the offering letter, memorandum, private placement memorandum, or similar offering to be made in writing to an immigrant investor offering capital investments through the Regional Center; and
    • Draft memorandum of understanding, interagency agreement, letter of intent, or similar agreement to be entered into with any other party, agency or organization to engage in activities on behalf of the Regional Center.

Regional Center Costs

A properly planned and managed Regional Center with a sustained project and investor pipeline can be completely self-funded, and may even generate a profitable revenue stream, using the fees charged to foreign investors.  These fees, typically labeled “administrative fees” are in addition to the principal investment and may range from $35,000 to $65,000 per foreign investor.  However, the majority of Regional Centers charge $40-45,000.

The costs associated with the set-up and management of a Regional Center vary depending primarily on the scope of the proposed project and the extent to which the Regional Center chooses to market.  In addition to start-up costs listed below, first-year sales, operations, and marketing fees should be accounted for.  However, in the case of Real Estate Investment and Development Firm, a lot of these costs could be defrayed by integrating Regional Center operations with the current Firm operations.

Start-up costs and expenses for developing a Regional Center are typically as follows:

  • Economist Fees for: (1) construction and analysis of the econometric model; (2) development and drafting of the EB-5 Business Plan; and (3) development and drafting of the Regional Center Five Year Operating Plan and Budget—$25-55,000.00.
  • Legal and Consulting Fees for: (1) transaction due diligence; (2) equity fund structuring; (3) EB-5 immigration law qualification; (4) securities law diligence and compliance; (5) representation before USCIS for project submission and approval; (6) individual investor preliminary qualification;  (7) drafting application and transactional documents including (i) memorandum of terms, (ii) private placement memorandum, (iii) subscription agreement, (iv) partnership agreement, (v) escrow agreement; and (8) supervision and review of economic impact analysis, operational plan, and business plan to ensure USCIS compliance—$75,000 – $200,000.
  • USCIS Governmental Filing Fees—$6,500.00.

An EB-5 funding model, if carefully planned and structured, could be an excellent and low-cost method of raising capital.  The range of capital raised through EB-5 Regional Centers has individually varied anywhere from $5 Million, on the low end, to $300 Million, on high end.  There has been increased awareness and interest by foreign investors in the EB-5 program, and it is forecasted that a record number of foreign investors will be issued EB-5 visas this year.

Although this is an overview of the process behind setting up a Regional Center, it is important to determine the exact scope of the proposed project to properly assess feasibility.   The first step is to evaluate the underlying project or projects to ensure that they will not only be profitable, but will also meet USCIS requirements of the EB-5 program.  Proper planning and careful due diligence by all parties involved is essential.

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Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Wassem M. Amin, Esq. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice.  The material posted on this web site is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Associate Attorney at Dhar Law LLP in Boston, MA and is the Vice Chairman of the Middle East Division as well as the Islamic Finance Committee of the American Bar Association’s International Law Section.  Wassem has extensive experience in the Middle East region, having worked as a consultant in the area for over 9 years.  Wassem currently focuses his practice on Corporate Law and International Business Transactions.  For more information, please visit the About Us page or request more information on our Contact Us page.

Doing Business in Saudi Arabia: Financing International Commercial Transactions

This Article was published in the Summer 2013 Newsletter of the International Commercial Transactions, Franchising, and Distribution Committee of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) International Law division.  The ABA is the largest association of attorneys and lawyers worldwide.

By: Wassem M. Amin, Esq.

If a company is exporting goods to Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, a key consideration is how to collect payment from the importer or buyer.  A risk assessment of the underlying transaction and the buyer is necessary to determine what option to choose.  For the exporter, on the risk spectrum, the least risky is to request that the importer pay up front prior to shipment.  However, unless there is an established history between the parties involved, it is highly unlikely for the buyer to do so. On the other end of the spectrum is the option to sell on an open account – which involves simply shipping the goods to the foreign buyer along with an invoice.  Again, this method of payment is ill-advised, because the U.S. company may end up not getting paid and, instead, quickly finding out how difficult it is to collect debts in foreign jurisdictions.

An alternative to both these options is the use of a Letter of Credit (“LC”).  Frequently used in international transactions, LCs are a document issued by a bank in which the bank agrees to pay money upon the presentation of specified documents.  The transactional costs in obtaining LCs are miniscule compared to the risk of loss that comes with nonpayment.  The most basic LC transactional structure is one where the buyer-importer opens a LC with an agreed-upon bank (the issuing bank) in favor of the seller-exporter (the beneficiary).  The Letter of Credit is then transmitted to the seller’s bank (usually, the advising bank) which releases the funds to the seller upon the seller’s presentation of a bill of lading or any other agreed-upon documents.  In the event the issuing bank’s credit rating is low, a third bank, a confirming bank, can act as a surety for payment.

Terms for Letters of Credit are strictly defined in an internationally-agreed upon nomenclature.  In addition, an uniform set of rules are used to govern the interpretation of terms as well as the rights and obligations of each party involved.  Today, these payment instruments are used in complex financing transactions which may involve multiple banks, parties and stipulations.  There are two main types of LCs: a standby LC and a performance LC.  The standby LC is used to guarantee payment in the event of default or non-performance by a party; while a performance LC is used to guarantee payment for performance (usually the shipment or receipt of goods).

In some transactions I have structured, a combination of both types is used to ensure compliance by the buyer and the seller.  One example involved a U.S. manufacturer of custom-designed casework and a Saudi Arabian subcontractor who contracted for the supply and installation of laboratories in connection with the construction of a new hospital complex in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province.  The total value of the contract exceeded several million dollars.  Due to the highly technical and specialized nature of these goods, the challenge was to design a financing mechanism that protected the interests of both the buyer and the seller.  The U.S. manufacturer was hesitant to begin fabrication and manufacturing without an advance payment.  On the other hand, the Saudi subcontractor did not want to bear the risk of losing the down payment in the event of the manufacturer’s default.  In addition, there was still the need to secure payment for the remainder of the project.

First, to provide security for the down payment, the U.S. manufacturer was asked to issue a standby letter of credit through its U.S. issuing bank to the subcontractor’s bank in Saudi Arabia.  The bank in Saudi Arabia would in turn issue a guarantee against default only for the advance payment amount.  The standby letter of credit would be triggered in the event of the U.S. manufacturer’s non-performance.

Second, to ensure that the U.S. manufacturer would be paid, the subcontractor issued a (performance) letter of credit for the remaining amount through a Saudi Arabian issuing bank to the manufacturer’s bank in the United States.  The terms of the LC stipulated payment to the manufacturer against presentation of Bill of Lading documents, which allowed staggered payment for each phase of the project.  This structure allowed minimal risk exposure for all parties involved.

The following sketch illustrates the steps performed by each party, numbered in the order they were performed.

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  1. U.S. supplier instructs its advising bank to issue a standby letter of credit to the importer’s bank in Saudi Arabia;
  2. Saudi bank, using the standby letter of credit of collateral, issues a bank guarantee to the importer for the advance payment;
  3. Saudi importer wires the advance payment to the U.S. supplier’s account;
  4. Saudi importer instructs its bank to issue a performance letter of credit for the outstanding amount;
  5. Saudi bank issues the letter of credit to the supplier’s U.S. bank;
  6. U.S. supplier ships goods to Saudi importer;
  7. U.S. supplier presents bill of lading to its bank for payment against the letter of credit;
  8. If documents presented conform to the letter of credit requirements, U.S. supplier’s bank releases funds, pro-rata, according to the bill of lading.

Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Wassem M. Amin, Esq. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice.  The material posted on this web site is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Associate Attorney at Dhar Law LLP in Boston, MA.  Wassem has extensive experience in the Middle Eastern region, having worked as a consultant in the area for over 9 years.  Wassem currently focuses his practice on Corporate Law and International Business Transactions.  For more information, please visit the About Us page or http://www.dharlawllp.com. 

Investor Immigration in the USA: The EB-5 Visa Professional’s Guide

EB-5 Dhar Law LLP

An Attorney and Service Provider’s Overview of Requirements for Eligibility and Implications under Different Areas of the Law

By: Wassem Amin, Esq., M.B.A.[1]

[NOTE: The following is a preview of a forthcoming Article on the same topic.]

Click Here for the Full Article in PDF Format.

In 1990, the United States Congress created the employment-based fifth preference (“EB-5”) immigrant visa category for immigrants who invest in and manage U.S. commercial enterprises that benefit the U.S. economy and create jobs. Allotted 10,000 immigrant visas annually, the EB-5 immigrant visa was designed to attract foreign direct investment into projects that would directly impact the economy (i.e., not merely passive investments).

Immigrant investors can apply for an EB-5 visa through two primary routes. The first route is through a direct investment into a qualifying “new commercial enterprise.” The second is through the Regional Center Pilot Program. Created by Congress in 1992, and recently extended by President Obama in the fall of 2012 an additional three years, the Pilot Program allows the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) to designate so-called Regional Centers to function as conduits or administrators of large or medium scale projects funded, at least in part, by EB-5 investors.

However, due to inconsistent administration by USCIS primarily caused by lack of proper training for its adjudicators, the Regional Center Pilot Program—as well as the EB-5 visa overall—was relatively under-utilized by practitioners, investors, and developers. For example, in Fiscal Year 2007, USCIS approved only 11 Regional Centers and issued 473 EB-5 Visas—out of the 10,000 available under the quota. In the following years, however, EB-5 visa issuances and Regional Center approvals exponentially increased in number. In FY 2012, EB-5 visas are projected to reach the visa cap for the first time in the program’s history.[2] Furthermore, Regional Center approvals in the same period spiked to an all-time high of 209. The increased interest in EB-5 investments has been attributed to a combination of factors including: (1) the overhaul of the program by USCIS and the creation of a dedicated EB-5 adjudication department; (2) the decrease in domestic investment capital after the 2008 recession; and (3) the increased political instability in foreign countries leading many high-net worth immigrants to relocate to the United States.

Forecasts for FY 2013 estimate that EB-5 capital will account for over $2 Billion in foreign direct investment. Since 2005, the program has injected over $6 billion in capital to the U.S. economy and added over 95,000 U.S. jobs. There have been many EB-5 and Regional Center success stories.

A particularly notable example is the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center. The Vermont EB-5 Regional Center is the only USCIS-designated Regional Center in the United States that is owned, controlled, and supervised directly by a state government. In fact, as Brent Raymond—who is the Director of the Regional Center as well as International Trade and Foreign Investment for the state—noted, the Vermont Regional Center has had a 100% success rate with immigration filings for affiliated alien investors and with investment returns on individual projects.

Advocacy groups have also had a strong positive impact in promoting the EB-5 Visa. The Association to Invest in the USA (“IIUSA”) is non-profit trade association that lobbies on behalf of Regional Centers nationwide. Led by Director Peter Joseph, it was founded in 2005 and represents over 80 Regional Centers, accounting for approximately 95% of all EB-5 capital.

Unfortunately, due to the growing popularity of the program, unscrupulous individuals and entities in the United States, as well as so-called “visa consultants” abroad, have attempted to use the EB-5 visa to defraud foreign investors. Foreign investors need to be diligent in their research and vetting process of such projects. Not surprisingly, counsel for the foreign investor or a Regional Center usually plays an integral role in this process. Unlike a traditional private offering, however, an attorney advising on an EB-5 visa, whether on behalf of the alien investor or the investment soliciting funds, needs to be well-versed in, not only also immigration law, but also corporate law, securities laws and regulations, tax law, international law, real estate law, and estate-planning—in addition to a fundamental understanding of business and economic forecasting models. It is a unique intersection of several areas of the law–each with their own complex regulatory and statutory regime.

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[1] Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Attorney at Dhar Law, LLP in Boston, MA. Wassem has extensive experience as a business advisor and consultant, domestically and abroad (in the Middle East region), having worked as a consultant for over 9 years. Wassem currently focuses his practice on Corporate Law, Business Immigration Law, and International Business Transactions; where he works with Firm Partners Vilas S. Dhar and Vikas Dhar to advise Regional Centers and individual investors on EB-5 Visa matters. For more information, please visit http://www.dharlawllp.com and email Wassem at wassem@dharlawllp.com.

Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Dhar Law, LLP for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. This article is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel. This material may be considered advertising according to the rules of the Supreme Judicial Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Reproduction or distribution without prior consent of the author is prohibited.

[2] USCIS EB-5 Statistics for Fiscal Years 2005-2012 (3rd Quarter), USCIS Office of Performance and Quality (OPQ), Data Analysis and Reporting Branch (July 23, 2012).