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.

Advertisements

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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

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.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

ICE Ramping Up Its Hunt for Illegal Workers

ICE Enforcement Actions

By Wassem Amin, Esq.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. government has launched an aggressive campaign against employers suspected of hiring illegal immigrants.  It is reported that the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for these investigations, have notified nearly 1,000 business across the country that they were being audited.   The so called “silent raids” by ICE have targeted a wide range of industries, including restaurants, food processing, high-tech manufacturing, agriculture, and others.  Despite immigration reform languishing in Congress, the latest raids suggest that the government is not suspending its enforcement actions.

The primary worksite enforcement mechanism used by ICE is the so-called I-9 Audit, together with the administrative fine procedure in the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Business selected for audits undergo a comprehensive review of I-9 forms and payroll records.  As part of the continuing investigation against the employer, employees that are detained will be interrogated and are often asked to give damaging testimony against the company.

Employers should know that current enforcement priorities focus on the employers rather than the employees.

Audits may result in civil penalties and may form the basis for criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers or commit other egregious violations.  The investigation may ultimately lead to criminal sanctions and/or civil fines against employers for hiring or harboring undocumented workers and/or for money laundering. Asset forfeiture tools will also utilized to seize any assets that have been deemed products of the unlawful activity.

An employer selected for an audit must immediately seek counsel from an attorney who is familiar with the intricacies of ICE investigations.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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 focuses his practice on Business Immigration and Corporate/Business Law and is also the Vice-Chairman for the Middle East Division of the ABA and the Vice-Chairman for the Islamic Finance Committee of the ABA. 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.