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.

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The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program – U.S. Permanent Residency for Foreign Investors

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By: Wassem M. Amin

Overview of the EB-5 Program

Recently extended by President Obama, the Eb-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program provides a pathway to U.S. citizenship for foreign nationals by investing in domestic projects that will create or preserve a minimum number of jobs for U.S. Workers.  The program is administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and provides that foreign nationals may qualify to obtain a green card if the individuals invest $1,000,000 (or at least $500,000 in a “Targeted Employment Area”-i.e., a high unemployment or rural area), creating or preserving at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers, excluding the investor and his or her immediate family.

Under the EB-5 Program, a project developer may apply to be designated as a “Regional Center” by the USCIS.  If approved, this allows the developer to raise capital from foreign nationals while at the same time enabling the foreign investors to obtain permanent residency.  The benefit to the developer, or Regional Center, is usually minimal cost of capital (ROI on these projects are usually negligible) and the ability to charge the investor an “administrative fee.”  Most Regional Center investments are structured as Limited Partnerships, where the investor is sold a limited partnership interest and the developer is the general partner.

Below is an outline of the USCIS requirements for a foreign investor to qualify for an EB-5 visa, followed by a list of typical offering documents which I have seen from Regional Centers.

EB-5 Eligibility (Qualification of Foreign Investor)

The EB-5 employment-based immigrant visa is designated for foreign investors in new commercial enterprises.  There are 10,000 annual visas in this category (this quota has never been met).  This category covers two major types of investors: (1) those who invest in targeted employment areas ; and (2) those who invest anywhere else .  A targeted employment area is defined as (1) a rural area; or (2) any area experiencing high unemployment of at least 150% of the national average rate.

Criteria for Qualification:

  • Investment of at least $500,000 (if in a targeted employment area) or $1,000,000 if any other area;
  • Required capital must be placed “at risk” for the purpose of generating a return on the capital (Actual commitment of the capital is required);
  • The enterprise must create full time employment for not less than 10 U.S. workers (includes citizens and permanent residents, but not immediate family members of the investor);
  • Investment must be in a “new commercial enterprise,” defined as: (1) creating an original business; (2) by buying and reorganizing an existing business; OR (3) investing in an existing “troubled business”, created after November 29, 1990, if the capital infusion will result in, at least 40% increase in net worth or number of employees;
  • Capital must be obtained through lawful means; and
  • Investor must be engaged in the management of the enterprise, through either day to day management or policy formulation (inapplicable if through a Regional Center).

Immigration Filing Requirements:

Amount of Capital Invested – To show that the petitioner is in the process of investing $1million or $500,000 (targeted area), petition must be accompanied with:

  • Bank Statements showing amounts deposited in the United States business accounts for the enterprise (or held in an irrevocable escrow account);
  • Evidence of all the assets purchased in the United States;
  • Evidence of all property transferred from abroad for use in the US enterprise, including applicable commercial entry documents and fair market valuations; or
  • Evidence of Monies transferred to the new commercial enterprise in exchange for shares of stock (voting or nonvoting, common or preferred) or convertible debentures.

Lawful Means Evidence – to prove the investor’s funds are derived from a lawful source, the investor must show evidence such as:

  • Foreign business registration records;
  • Corporate, Partnership, and personal tax returns;
  • Evidence identifying any other source of capital; OR
  • Certified copies of judgments or evidence of all pending civil or criminal actions involving monetary judgments against the petitioner.

Job Creation Evidence Required – to show that the new commercial enterprise will create not less than 10 full time positions for qualifying employees, the petition must be accompanied by:

    1. Documentation consisting of photocopies of Form I-9, tax records, or other similar documents for 10 employees (if already hired); OR
    2. A Copy of a comprehensive business plan showing that, due to the nature and projected size of the new commercial enterprise, the need for not fewer than 10 employees will result, including approximate dates, within the next two years, when such employees will be hired.

Management – Evidence that a petitioner is or will be engaged in management (day to day or policy formulation), the petition must be accompanied by:

    1. A statement of the position title that the petitioner has or will have in the new enterprise, and a complete description of his duties;
    2. Evidence that the petitioner is a corporate officer or holds a seat on a corporate board of directors; OR
    3. If the new entity is a partnership, evidence that the petitioner is involved in management or policy-making.

Targeted Employment Area

    1. Evidence that the metropolitan statistical area, a specific county within such an area, or a county in which a city or town with a population of 20,000 or more is located, has experienced an average unemployment rate of 150% of the national average rate; or
    2. A letter from an authorized body of the government or political subdivision of the metro statistical area, or of the city or town with a population of 20,000 or more in which the enterprise is principally doing business, has been designated a high unemployment area.

Typical EB-5 Regional Center Offering Documents:

  • Project Summary Sheet
  • Memorandum of Terms (Term Sheet)
  • Private Placement Memorandum
  • Partnership Agreement
  • Subscription Agreement
  • Targeted Employment Area Designation
  • Business Plan(s)
  • Approved Economic Impact Report
  • Escrow Agreements for Subscription Fees & Capital Contribution
  • Completion or Performance Bond
  • Payment Bonds
  • USCIS Regional Center Approval Letter
  • Investor Qualification Questionnaire
  • Brochure(s) and other marketing material

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and it is not intended as legal advice.  Their are many other factors that may impact an applicant’s eligibility.  Consultation with a knowledgeable Immigration and Corporate Attorney is important.  For more information, please contact Wassem M. Amin.