Regulatory Wild West for Foreign Finders: Part 2

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Part 1 of this entry introduces the hypothetical foreign broker from Qatar, Petra Ventures, which finds GCC investors for private U.S. ventures.  Petra of course prefers to avoid registering as a broker with the securities laws of both its domestic and foreign jurisdiction, considering that registration is both costly and time-intensive.  Assuming Petra confirms that the GCC’s regulatory regime offers a shelter from registration for foreign finders, it must still make certain of its legal standing as an unregistered entity brokering private deals partly in the U.S.

The SEC requires brokers that transact in private securities on behalf of others to register,[i] and it includes domestic private placement agents and finders into this scheme.[ii]  Commission Staff guidance defines a finder as any person who finds investors for, makes referrals to, or splits commissions with registered brokers, investment companies, or other securities issuers and intermediaries—including for private venture capital placements.[iii]

The Commission offers two registration exemptions for the activities of parties to private trades.

Regulation S Exemption

Via the Regulation S Exemption, the Commission exempts issuers, distributors, and any of their respective affiliates who offer and sale outside the United States from the registration requirements.[iv]  Offers occur outside the United States if:

(1) The offer or sale is made in an offshore transaction;

(2) The issuer, distributor, or any of their affiliates make no directed selling efforts in the United States; and

(3) The purchaser of the securities (other than a distributor) certifies that it is not a U.S. citizen, and is not acquiring the securities for the account or benefit of any U.S. person.  Moreover, the purchaser must agree to wait one year before reselling such securities back into the U.S.

Unfortunately, Regulation S states that nothing in its Rules obviates the need for any issuer or any other person to comply with the broker registration requirements of the Exchange Act when applicable.  Though at first glance it seems the Commission carved out shelter for foreign brokers by exempting affiliates of an issuer or distributor.  However, the Commission shuts the door to this potential brokers exemption by explicitly mentioning just paragraphs later that broker registration requirements remain largely in tactPetra’s ability to rely on the Regulation S exemption is at best tenuous, and it must still search elsewhere for an appropriate regulatory shelter from registration.            

Foreign Broker Exemption

The SEC generally uses a territorial approach in applying registration requirements to the international operations of foreign brokers. Under this approach, all brokers physically operating within the United States that solicit securities transactions must register with the SEC, even if their activities are directed only to foreign investors outside of the United States.  Additionally, foreign brokers that operate from outside of the United States who solicit U.S. investors through using the instrumentalities of interstate commerce must register.[v]

However, the Commission does provide a narrow exemption for foreign brokers who 1) operate outside the U.S., and 2) solicit exclusively to foreign entities.  The Commission defines a foreign broker as any non U.S.-resident person whose securities activities, if conducted in the United States, would be described by the definition of “broker” in the Exchange Act.[vi]  The Commission includes brokers temporarily present in the U.S. as well as brokers that are U.S. citizens residing abroad, into its definition of a foreign broker.[vii]  Petra falls within the Commission’s definition of a foreign broker, as long as Petra maintains a substantial business presence abroad and only solicits only to foreign investors.

This Foreign Broker exemption states that a foreign broker can help U.S. investors purchase any security from foreign issuer, as long as the foreign broker transacts alongside a registered broker intermediary.[viii] Though a step in the right direction, the Foreign Broker exemption hardly fits Petra like a glove.  Petra connects foreign investors to U.S issuers, rather than bring U.S. investors to foreign issuers. The language in the exemption suggests that the Commission intended to focus this exemption on transactions that bring U.S. money to foreign entities, and not the other way around.  The Commission’s requirement that foreign brokers work in tandem with a U.S. registered broker as an intermediary supports this interpretation.  Though both Regulation S and the Foreign Broker exemption address brokering activities within the penumbra of Petra’s business model, neither affords Petra unambiguous shelter from registration.

Persuasive secondary sources shed some light on the ambiguity of Petra’s registration requirements, stating that the SEC has not indicated that it requires registration for brokers purchasing securities in the United States and selling them to foreign investors abroad. [ix]   Although the SEC could require such registration in the future, the SEC’s primary concern is the protection of American investors, not foreign.

Though the SEC has not provided an explicitly apt registration exemption for Petra Ventures, Petra may continue operating its current business model without registering as long as it complies with the following guidelines:

(1) Petra must conduct all brokering through Petra ME.  Petra requires further research to determine how to appropriately separate the business activities of its two branches.

(2) Petra must only solicit non-U.S. investors, including non-U.S. Citizens temporarily in the U.S., green card holders, and foreign students.

(3) Petra ME may not even hold itself out as a broker to U.S. investors, nor may it even advertise in the United States.

(4) Petra may only solicit in the GCC region to institutional investors, government authorities, investment managers, and Petra may transact with individual investors who seek out Petra without prompting.

(5) Petra must contact a lawyer familiar with Dubai Securities Law, and conduct a more thorough understanding of this foreign regulatory system.

[i] 15 U.S.C. § 78c.

[ii] Guide to Broker-Dealer Registration, Division of Trading and Markets, SEC, April 2008, available at http://www.sec.gov/divisions/marketreg/bdguide.htm#II.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Rule 903; 17 CFR §230.903.

[v] Id. at footnote 3.

[vi] Rule 15a-6(b)(3) of the Exchange Act.

[vii] Id.

[viii] 17 CFR §240.15a-6(a)(3).

[ix] “The Regulation of Investment Management and Fiduciary Services,” 1 Reg. of Invest. Mgmt. & Fiduciary Serv. § 19:7.

Disclaimer: These materials have been prepared by Amin Consulting LLC 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.

About Amin Consulting LLC: Amin Consulting is a uniquely positioned advisory and consulting Firm that, through our diverse team of Legal and Business experts, provides unique and niche services for Middle Eastern and United States based companies and investors.  Whether you are a U.S. Company expanding in the Middle East, or a High Net Worth Family from the Middle East looking to diversify or protect its assets, you have come to the right place.

Our team is compromised of professionals with decades of collective consulting, legal, and business experience–specifically between those two regions of the world.  Most of our consultants are Accredited and Licensed United States Attorneys as well as International Business Consultants.  That allows us to provide, not only expert advice, but also added value through vertical integration of these often interconnected services.

For more information or a free consultation, send us a message here!

EB-5 Chinese Quota Retrogression: Analysis of Potential Impact and Recommended Solutions

Amin-Wassem-China-US-EB-5By Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA

(Visit our Publications Page for a FREE PDF Download of this Article)

Over the past few years, the skyrocketing popularity of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa program has fueled record demand from foreign investors.  The EB-5 Immigrant Visa allows foreign investors and their immediate family members to obtain permanent residency, providing an eventual path for citizenship, in exchange for a $500,000 to $1,000,000 investment in a job-creating enterprise.  The overwhelming majority of EB-5 foreign investors, over 80%, have come from China.  Allotted a maximum quota of 10,000 visas per year, the EB-5 Immigrant Visa is further subject to a numerical per country limit in the event that quota is met.   Known as “retrogression,” this limitation essentially works by creating a backlog in visa availability for immigrant investors from oversubscribed countries.

The U.S. Department of State cautioned in a December 2012 bulletin that projected demand of EB-5 Visas in that fiscal year may subject Chinese immigrant investors to retrogression.  Although that never came to fruition (not due to demand, but primarily caused by slow processing times), the Department of State renewed its caution alert again in December 2013.  Although the 10,000 visa-quota has never been met since the inception of the EB-5 Program, based on new statistics recently released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”), it is now evident that the demand will surpass the available quota inevitably, perhaps as soon as this Fiscal Year 2015.  This no longer makes the likelihood of Chinese quota retrogression a question of “if,” but rather “when.”

The implications of Chinese quota retrogression are far-reaching and affect not only potential Chinese investors but the entire EB-5 industry, including Regional Centers, project developers, agents, and professional service providers such as attorneys.  This article will begin with a brief overview of the EB-5 program and how visa retrogression works.  It will then assess the potential ramifications of Chinese EB-5 visa retrogression for investors and the EB-5 industry.  Finally, it will propose solutions to alleviate the potential impact of Chinese quota retrogression on project developers and Regional Centers.

Background

In 1990, the U.S. 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. The Regional Center Pilot Program allows USCIS to designate private or public entities as 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. Regardless of which route is selected, the EB-5 Investor Visa allows foreign investors to obtain permanent residency in the United States conditioned upon an investment of a minimum of $1,000,000 (or $500,000 in a high unemployment or rural area) in a project which creates and sustains at least 10 full-time jobs for U.S. workers.

How Does Visa Retrogression Work?

Congress sets limits on the number of immigrant visas that can be issued each year. In order to adjust status to that of legal permanent resident, an immigrant visa must be available to the applicant both at the time of filing and at the time of adjudication. Visa retrogression occurs when more people apply for a visa in a particular category or country than there are visas available for that month. Retrogression typically occurs toward the end of the fiscal year as visa issuance approaches the annual category, or per-country limitations.  When an applicant files an immigrant petition, he or she is given a “priority date.”  The priority date is the date when the immigrant petition is properly filed with USCIS.  If, at the time of adjudication, an applicant’s priority date no longer meets the cut-off date published by the Department of State, due to retrogression, his or her case must be held in abeyance until a visa once again becomes available.

The EB-5 Program is allotted 10,000 annual immigrant visas.  However, that number is misleading because the quota counts an investor as well as  his beneficiaries, i.e.,if an average investor is married and has two children, the total number of visas counted towards the quota will be four.  In reality, the average number of actual EB-5 principal investors is around 3,000, substantially lower than the available quota.

Once that annual quota is met, the per country limitations on EB-5 visas will be imposed, creating a waitlist for applicants from oversubscribed countries.  Since Chinese applicants account for the substantial majority of EB-5 visas, they will be the ones directly impacted.  This backlog would essentially delay an investor’s ability to obtain an immigrant visa by a year or more, in addition to normal USCIS processing times for an I-526 (the Immigrant Investor Petition).  Therefore, if, for example, an I-526 petition normally takes 6-9 months, a backlog due to visa retrogression would extend processing times to an average of two years, if not more.

 What is the Likelihood of a Chinese Visa Retrogression?

In FY2013, 8,567 EB-5 visas were issued.  In the first two months of FY2014, over 6,700 EB-5 petitions are already pending with USCIS.  Absent Congressional action, the prospect of EB-5 petitions exceeding the annual 10,000 allotment is inevitable.  Once that quota is met, the per country limits will result in visa retrogression for Chinese investors, delaying their ability to obtain an immigrant visa by at least a year or more, in addition to the time it takes to process the I-526.

Potential Implications

In the long-term, the delay and complications of EB-5 processing will result in Chinese investors looking to other countries that actively compete for foreign investors, including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.  Retrogression adds further strains on the EB-5 program which has already been plagued by extraordinarily slow processing times and delays by USCIS.  Faced with the prospect of waiting two or more years before being able to immigrate to the United States, a Chinese investor may decide to immigrate elsewhere.  Other countries will surely capitalize on visa retrogression to draw away potential investors.

In addition, the Chinese retrogression creates a significant conflict of interest between project developers, Chinese investors and immigration agents.  It also raises new ethical issues for an attorney representing the project developer or the Chinese investor.

From an investor’s perspective, an investor with children who are reaching the age of 21 may have incentives to delay the approval of the I-526 as long as possible.  Under the Child Status Protection Act (“CSPA”), commonly known as the “age-out provisions,” a child can immigrate as a beneficiary of a parent’s immigration application until he or she turns 21.  The CSPA freezes the age of children who are derivative beneficiaries of an I-526 petition while the petition is pending, but not once the petition is approved and awaiting the quota to become available for an immigrant visa.  This benefits a Chinese investor whose children are close to aging out.  Thus, it will be their benefit to delay the I-526 approval as long as possible.

From a Regional Center or project developer’s perspective, job creation projections and capital redemption timelines will be directly impacted by retrogression.  Capital redemption, or the investor’s exit strategy, is, essentially, the time period before which the investor can have his capital returned.  A protracted visa immigrant visa availability will tie up the investment money for a longer period of time.  Although that may seem like a benefit to the project developer, most current EB-5 investments provide for an exit strategy in which the developer sells or refinances the business, using the proceeds to repay investors.  A delay in visa availability will delay the developer’s ability to do so–since an investor cannot redeem capital before the approval of an I-829, which is the petition to remove conditions on investor’s permanent resident card.

Another potential implication is whether such a delay would impact the developer’s ability to access investor funds.  In a typical investment through a Regional Center, the investor’s capital is held in an escrow account until the approval of the I-526, at which point the funds are released to the developer.  Previously, an I-526 approval typically meant that the investor would be able to immigrate to the United States (or adjust their status) shortly thereafter because an immigrant visa was always available.  However, visa retrogression will delay that process by a significant period of time.  An investor, therefore, may dictate that the funds be held in escrow until a visa becomes available, not simply until the I-526 is approved.  Without alternate financing, this delay could essentially result in an inability to proceed with a project’s development and, ultimate failure.

From an attorney’s perspective, counsel for a Regional Center must recognize the additional securities disclosures that may result from visa retrogression.  Specifically, new risk factors for offering documents or Private Placement Memoranda would need to be disclosed.  Similarly, counsel for an investor would need to highlight the possible implications to their client.

Solutions and Proposals

Bridge Financing

However, the growth in EB-5 financing market has the creation of spurred specialized loan companies that address this very issue.  There are now several companies that provide specialized EB-5 bridge loans which allow a developer access to all or some of its anticipated capital.

Bridge or interim financing provides the opportunity for EB-5 project developers to take out short term financing to help construct and develop the project, then the EB-5 capital, as it is received, may replace that short term financing yet still receive credit for job creation by USCIS.

Moreover, in its latest Policy Memorandum, USCIS has specifically indicated that such financial arrangements are allowed in the EB-5 context.  In a May 20, 2013 Adjudications Policy Memorandum, USCIS stated, in pertinent part:

It is acceptable for the developer or the principal of the new commercial enterprise, either directly or through a separate job-creating entity, to utilize interim, temporary or bridge financing – in the form of either debt or equity – prior to receipt of EB-5 capital. If the project commences based on the bridge financing prior to the receipt of the EB-5 capital and subsequently replaces it with EB-5 capital, the new commercial enterprise still gets credit for the job creation [arguably the main requirement of the EB-5 program] under the regulations….Developers should not be precluded from using EB-5 capital as an alternative source to replace temporary financing simply because it was not contemplated prior to obtaining the bridge or temporary financing.

Tapping Alternative Markets

Prudent project developers and Regional Centers should hedge the risk of any impact a shortage in Chinese investors may cause.  Since over 80% of EB-5 investors are from China, even a small decrease in the number of investors may have an significant impact.  Creating an alternative pipeline of EB-5 investors from different regions is the key to ensuring continued and sustained growth in the EB-5 Program.


[1] 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 of the American Bar Association.  Wassem has extensive experience in the Middle East region, having worked as a consultant in the area for over 9 years.  Wassem currently concentrates his practice on Corporate Law, Business Immigration and International Business Transactions.  He has advised countless Eb-5 Investors and assisted developers in structuring USCIS-compliant EB-5 Regional Centers as well as sourcing investors throughout the Middle East.  For more information, please visit the About Us page or request more information on our Contact Us page.

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.

EB-5 Regional Centers in Project Finance: Using EB-5 Capital in lieu of Mezzanine Financing

By Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA

The EB-5 program — which was created in 1990 but has grown in popularity only over the past few years — allows overseas investors to obtain a green card in exchange for providing a minimum of $500,000 in financing for qualified projects.  The explosive growth of the EB-5 program has caught the attention of real estate and project developers nationwide.  Developers have been using the program to establish so-called EB-5 Regional Centers, which are essentially entities, approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) that allow a developer to raise capital from foreign immigrant investors for a specific project or projects.  The total capital raised per project has ranged from $1,000,000 to over $300,000,000.  As the use of EB-5 Regional Centers has expanded, the structure of EB-5 Regional Centers and underlying investments has also increased in complexity–which has allowed EB-5 capital to be used in increasingly diverse types of projects.

Of course, at the outset, it is critical to ensure that any contemplated EB-5 financing meet the stringent requirements set out by USCIS for the program.  The details of the program, and the differences between EB-5 financing through a Regional Center, are discussed in prior posts, here and here (each post includes downloadable PDFs, as well).

EB-5 Financing as an Alternative to Real Estate Mezzanine Capital

A potential, and increasingly popular, use of EB-5 funds in Real Estate finance is as a source of capital in lieu of traditional mezzanine loans.  In the context of real estate finance, mezzanine loans are typically used by developers as a source of supplementary financing for development projects.  Unlike a traditional mortgage, real estate mezzanine loans are collateralized by equity (such as stock or other ownership interest) in the development company rather than the property itself.  To account for the higher risk, lenders of mezzanine capital typically charge interest rates and fees that range between 12-20%, a substantial cost for the developer.

This is where EB-5 financing shines –  EB-5 cost of capital is one of the primary reasons the program has become very popular with developers.  EB-5 financing, whether structured in a debt or equity model (more on EB-5 financing structures, here), typically cost around 1-2%.  For example, in a debt model, an EB-5 loan from the foreign investor would carry an interest rate of 1%–significantly lower than traditional mortgage-backed loans, and exponentially lower than the cost of mezzanine financing.

EB-5 Financing as an Alternative to Mezzanine Capital in Leveraged Buyouts

In a leveraged buyout (“LBO”), mezzanine capital may be used in conjunction with other forms of financing and equity as part of the capital stack to fund the purchase price of a company being acquired.  In LBOs, Private Equity firms or an acquiring company often use mezzanine capital to lower the amount of capital invested.  Since Private Equity firms typically have higher target rates of returns than a mezzanine lender, use of mezzanine loans may increase the rate of return on an investment.  EB-5 Financing in the context of LBOs could replace the mezzanine loan in a capital stack and significantly enhance the rate of return on an investment or acquisition.  For example, in an LBO, if the capital stack of a purchase includes $50 million in mezzanine financing, at a cost of 15% to the borrower, using a simple interest rate calculation, the cost of capital to the purchaser is at least $7.5 million.  The significant cost of a mezzanine loan may have the effect of not only reducing the value of an LBO target, but also greatly diminishing the rate of return on an investment.

As in Real Estate finance, use of EB-5 capital in an LBO can have significant advantages.  For example, in the above scenario, if the LBO uses EB-5 capital in lieu of its mezzanine financing, the cost of capital would be around 1-2%, or between $500,000 to $1,000,000 in a $50 million capital raise–that is a savings of over $6,500,000.  In other words, using EB-5 capital just increased the return on the investment by an additional $6,500,000!

Making EB-5 Financing Work: Bridge Loans

Assuming the underlying project meets the requirements of the EB-5 program, many project developers or companies are still reluctant to use EB-5 financing simply because of the length of USCIS processing times.  Although USCIS has made significant strides over the past few years to address that issue, the fact remains that structuring an EB-5 financing takes a significant amount of time.  It may take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years before a developer is able to have funds from an EB-5 financing at its disposal.  The delay in access to these funds can prove fatal to a project.

However, the growth in EB-5 financing market has the creation of spurred specialized loan companies that address this very issue.  There are now several companies that provide specialized EB-5 bridge loans which allow a developer access to all or some of its anticipated capital.  Moreover, in its latest Policy Memorandum, USCIS has specifically indicated that such financial arrangements are allowed in the EB-5 context.  In a May 20, 2013 Adjudications Policy Memorandum, USCIS stated:

“It is acceptable for the developer or the principal of the new commercial enterprise, either directly or through a separate job-creating entity, to utilize interim, temporary or bridge financing – in the form of either debt or equity – prior to receipt of EB-5 capital. If the project commences based on the bridge financing prior to the receipt of the EB-5 capital and subsequently replaces it with EB-5 capital, the new commercial enterprise still gets credit for the job creation [arguably the main requirement of the EB-5 program] under the regulations….Developers should not be precluded from using EB-5 capital as an alternative source to replace temporary financing simply because it was not contemplated prior to obtaining the bridge or temporary financing.”

The increasing popularity and exponential growth of the EB-5 market has expanded the possibilities in which EB-5 capital can be used.  More than ever before, EB-5 capital can be used in a variety of flexible financing structures to fund increasingly diverse projects.  The key to successfully raising EB-5 capital is proper planning with the assistance of attorneys and professionals who, not only have expertise in Securities, Corporate, Immigration and, if applicable, Real Estate Law, but are also well-versed in the unique requirements the EB-5 program.  Finally, proper and extensive due diligence and risk analysis on the underlying project and the overall financing should also be completed contemporaneously.

If you would like more information about the EB-5 Visa or Regional Center development and investment offerings, please contact Wassem M. Amin, Esq., at wassem@aminconsultingllc.com.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA is an Associate Attorney at Dhar Law LLP in Boston, MA, a Managing Director of Amin Consulting LLC 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 concentrates his practice on Corporate Law, Business Immigration and International Business Transactions.  He has advised countless Eb-5 Investors and assisted developers in structuring USCIS-compliant EB-5 Regional Centers.  For more information, please visit the About Us page or request more information on our Contact Us page.

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.

EB-5 Regional Centers in Project Finance: Using EB-5 Capital in lieu of Mezzanine Financing

By Wassem M. Amin, Esq., MBA

The EB-5 program — which was created in 1990 but has grown in popularity only over the past few years — allows overseas investors to obtain a green card in exchange for providing a minimum of $500,000 in financing for qualified projects.  The explosive growth of the EB-5 program has caught the attention of real estate and project developers nationwide.  Developers have been using the program to establish so-called EB-5 Regional Centers, which are essentially entities, approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) that allow a developer to raise capital from foreign immigrant investors for a specific project or projects.  The total capital raised per project has ranged from $1,000,000 to over $300,000,000.  As the use of EB-5 Regional Centers has expanded, the structure of EB-5 Regional Centers and underlying investments has also increased in complexity–which has allowed EB-5 capital to be used in increasingly diverse types of projects.

Of course, at the outset, it is critical to ensure that any contemplated EB-5 financing meet the stringent requirements set out by USCIS for the program.  The details of the program, and the differences between EB-5 financing through a Regional Center, are discussed in prior posts, here and here (each post includes downloadable PDFs, as well).

EB-5 Financing as an Alternative to Real Estate Mezzanine Capital

A potential, and increasingly popular, use of EB-5 funds in Real Estate finance is as a source of capital in lieu of traditional mezzanine loans.  In the context of real estate finance, mezzanine loans are typically used by developers as a source of supplementary financing for development projects.  Unlike a traditional mortgage, real estate mezzanine loans are collateralized by equity (such as stock or other ownership interest) in the development company rather than the property itself.  To account for the higher risk, lenders of mezzanine capital typically charge interest rates and fees that range between 12-20%, a substantial cost for the developer.

This is where EB-5 financing shines –  EB-5 cost of capital is one of the primary reasons the program has become very popular with developers.  EB-5 financing, whether structured in a debt or equity model (more on EB-5 financing structures, here), typically cost around 1-2%.  For example, in a debt model, an EB-5 loan from the foreign investor would carry an interest rate of 1%–significantly lower than traditional mortgage-backed loans, and exponentially lower than the cost of mezzanine financing.

EB-5 Financing as an Alternative to Mezzanine Capital in Leveraged Buyouts

In a leveraged buyout (“LBO”), mezzanine capital may be used in conjunction with other forms of financing and equity as part of the capital stack to fund the purchase price of a company being acquired.  In LBOs, Private Equity firms or an acquiring company often use mezzanine capital to lower the amount of capital invested.  Since Private Equity firms typically have higher target rates of returns than a mezzanine lender, use of mezzanine loans may increase the rate of return on an investment.  EB-5 Financing in the context of LBOs could replace the mezzanine loan in a capital stack and significantly enhance the rate of return on an investment or acquisition.  For example, in an LBO, if the capital stack of a purchase includes $50 million in mezzanine financing, at a cost of 15% to the borrower, using a simple interest rate calculation, the cost of capital to the purchaser is at least $7.5 million.  The significant cost of a mezzanine loan may have the effect of not only reducing the value of an LBO target, but also greatly diminishing the rate of return on an investment.

As in Real Estate finance, use of EB-5 capital in an LBO can have significant advantages.  For example, in the above scenario, if the LBO uses EB-5 capital in lieu of its mezzanine financing, the cost of capital would be around 1-2%, or between $500,000 to $1,000,000 in a $50 million capital raise–that is a savings of over $6,500,000.  In other words, using EB-5 capital just increased the return on the investment by an additional $6,500,000!

Making EB-5 Financing Work: Bridge Loans

Assuming the underlying project meets the requirements of the EB-5 program, many project developers or companies are still reluctant to use EB-5 financing simply because of the length of USCIS processing times.  Although USCIS has made significant strides over the past few years to address that issue, the fact remains that structuring an EB-5 financing takes a significant amount of time.  It may take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years before a developer is able to have funds from an EB-5 financing at its disposal.  The delay in access to these funds can prove fatal to a project.

However, the growth in EB-5 financing market has the creation of spurred specialized loan companies that address this very issue.  There are now several companies that provide specialized EB-5 bridge loans which allow a developer access to all or some of its anticipated capital.  Moreover, in its latest Policy Memorandum, USCIS has specifically indicated that such financial arrangements are allowed in the EB-5 context.  In a May 20, 2013 Adjudications Policy Memorandum, USCIS stated:

“It is acceptable for the developer or the principal of the new commercial enterprise, either directly or through a separate job-creating entity, to utilize interim, temporary or bridge financing – in the form of either debt or equity – prior to receipt of EB-5 capital. If the project commences based on the bridge financing prior to the receipt of the EB-5 capital and subsequently replaces it with EB-5 capital, the new commercial enterprise still gets credit for the job creation [arguably the main requirement of the EB-5 program] under the regulations….Developers should not be precluded from using EB-5 capital as an alternative source to replace temporary financing simply because it was not contemplated prior to obtaining the bridge or temporary financing.”

The increasing popularity and exponential growth of the EB-5 market has expanded the possibilities in which EB-5 capital can be used.  More than ever before, EB-5 capital can be used in a variety of flexible financing structures to fund increasingly diverse projects.  The key to successfully raising EB-5 capital is proper planning with the assistance of attorneys and professionals who, not only have expertise in Securities, Corporate, Immigration and, if applicable, Real Estate Law, but are also well-versed in the unique requirements the EB-5 program.  Finally, proper and extensive due diligence and risk analysis on the underlying project and the overall financing should also be completed contemporaneously.

If you would like more information about the EB-5 Visa or Regional Center development and investment offerings, please contact Wassem M. Amin, Esq., at wassem@dharlawllp.com.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

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 concentrates his practice on Corporate Law, Business Immigration and International Business Transactions.  He has advised countless Eb-5 Investors and assisted developers in structuring USCIS-compliant EB-5 Regional Centers.  For more information, please visit the About Us page or request more information on our Contact Us page.

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.

EB-5 Investments in a Regional Center: A Due Diligence Guide for an EB-5 Immigrant Investor

eb-5-visa Wassem Amin

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

The EB-5 Visa program’s popularity has skyrocketed in the last couple of years.  A foreign investor can obtain permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship if the investment follows the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (“USCIS”) guidelines of the EB-5 Visa Program.  The majority of EB-5 Investors invest through so-called Regional Centers.

A Regional Center is an entity, approved by USCIS, to develop projects that meet EB-5 guidelines.  The Regional Center could be the developer of the project or another entity that manages the project.  Obtaining the designation of an approved regional center from USCIS allows that entity to solicit foreign EB-5 Investors.    Although the program has been a huge success – generating billions of dollars in direct investment and creating tens of thousands of U.S. jobs – this success has attracted the attention of unscrupulous individuals.

A couple of recent high-profile examples include the Chicago Regional Center (discussed here) and, more recently, an individual who created a fraudulent regional center to solicit funds and divert them for his personal use.   Despite these unfortunate, the vast majority of EB-5 Regional Centers are legitimate.

If you are considering investing in an EB-5 Regional Center, it is important to conduct your own research and due diligence.  Although this should not be viewed as a comprehensive list, the following guide should be used to assess the viability of the Regional Center and feasibility of the underlying project.

EB-5 Investors: Due Diligence Guide

  1. The beginning step should be to always confirm that the Regional Center has been approved by USCIS.  Start by checking on www.uscis.gov.  USCIS maintains an up-to-date list of Regional Centers across the country.
  2. After you have located a potential Regional Center, request a copy of their USCIS approval letter.  This will help ensure that you are not dealing with an imposter instead of the actual Regional Center.  Further, obtain copies of the actual filings with USCIS.  Regional Centers must file an application (Form I-924) to obtain initial designation and approval.
  3. Stay away from Regional Center projects that do not have clearly written and planned investment offering documents.  Reputable Regional Centers will usually have a Private Placement Memorandum (PPM), or similar, to send to an interested investor.  In addition to the PPM, investment documents for a typical Regional Center project include: Request the above investment information in writing.  If you do not have experience in evaluating the profitability or viability of a potential project, hire an experienced professional, such as a Corporate Lawyer or Business Consultant, to assist you.
    • Memorandum of Terms or Term Sheet;
    • Partnership Agreement or similar;
    • Investor Qualification Questionnaire;
    • Subscription Agreement;
    • Escrow Agreement;
    • USCIS Approval Letter
    • Investor Certificates;
    • Comprehensive Business Plan;
    • Economic Impact Plan by a qualified professional;
    • Wiring Instructions;
    • Disclosures of Administrative Fees;
    • Marketing Plan and Sample Marketing Material
    • Among others
  4. Consider the project developer’s involvement in the project.  A majority of EB-5 Regional Center developers often make significant capital investments in the project.  This would be a positive indication for the investor, because it means the developer’s own funds are at risk and they have their “skin in the game”–their financial return is linked to the success of the project.

Remember, although the EB-5 visa program has one of the highest USCIS approval percentages for individual investors, it is not “guaranteed.”  A telltale sign of potential fraud are promises of a conditional or permanent green card or citizenship.  In addition, be wary of promises of returns on the investment that are significantly higher than market rates.

Keep in mind that a requirement of the EB-5 investment is that the investor’s funds must be at risk–that means that the Regional Center or developer cannot even guarantee the return of your principal investment.  Although most reputable Regional Centers will in fact pay return the investment funds at the end of the agreed-upon period, a promise or guarantee at the outset is not feasible – and could even result in the denial of application with USCIS.

The EB-5 Regional Center program has been very successful and is gaining in popularity.  It has significant potential in generating foreign direct investment in rural and high unemployment areas.  It is also very popular with investors because of it has a track record of success and high rate of USCIS approvals.  However, a potential foreign EB-5 investor should always exercise caution when considering an EB-5 Regional Center investment.  Comprehensive due diligence and research, as with any other investment, is necessary and highly recommended.

If you would like more information about the EB-5 Visa or Regional Center development and investment offerings, please contact Wassem M. Amin, Esq., at wassem@dharlawllp.com.

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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 concentrates his practice on Corporate Law, Business Immigration and International Business Transactions.  He has advised countless Eb-5 Investors and assisted developers in structuring USCIS-compliant EB-5 Regional Centers.  For more information, please visit the About Us page or request more information on our Contact Us page.