President Signs EB-5 Extension into Law

EB-5Congress gave final approval last Friday to a $1.1-trillion funding bill, keeping the government running through September 30, 2016 (the end of the fiscal year). Tucked into the law is a provision to extend a key part of the EB-5 investment immigration scheme. The provision extends the pilot program for regional centers through September 30 with no changes. Continue reading “President Signs EB-5 Extension into Law”

SEC Says Chicago Convention Center EB-5 Project Fraudulently Sold $145 Million in Shares to Chinese Investors

Anshoo_SethiThe Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week charged that Anshoo R. Sethi fraudulently sold more than $145 million in securities and collected $11 million in administrative fees from more than 250 investors, primarily from China. Sethi is alleged to have duped investors into believing that by purchasing interests in a company known as “a Chicago Convention Center” (ACCC), they would be financing construction of a hotel and conference center near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The investment was marketed as a way for the investors to get green cards through the EB-5 immigrant investor program. Continue reading “SEC Says Chicago Convention Center EB-5 Project Fraudulently Sold $145 Million in Shares to Chinese Investors”

2009 Statistics for EB-5 Investor Visas

Statistics show a surge in interest in the EB-5 investor visa program during 2009. Created as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, the EB-5 visa program grants lawful permanent residence to foreign nationals who invest $500,000 or $1 million in U.S. businesses and create or preserve at least 10 U.S. jobs.

Especially noteworthy is the increase in “regional centers.” These are private corporations or government agencies which can pool investor money to make large investments in specific geographic areas. The centers have used EB-5 investor capital in a wide variety of projects, including hotels, manufacturing enterprises, farms, restaurants, and technology companies.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics for fiscal year 2009 (ending October 1, 2009):

* Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur:  1028 received, 966 approved, 163 denied.
* Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions: 437 received, 335 approved, 55 denied.

U.S. Department of State Statistics:

* FY 2009: 4,218 immigrant visas issued.
* FY 2008: 1,443 immigrant visas issued.

Regional Centers:

* FY 2009: 74
* FY 2008: 23

EB-5 Regional Centers Stay Alive … for the Moment

On March 11 the President signed the Fiscal 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, H.R. 1105, extending the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program. 

This is the Pilot Program that allows USCIS to receive, process, and adjudicate Forms I-526, Immigrant Petitions by Alien Entrepreneur, affiliated with Regional Centers relying on “indirect” job creation analysis. The law also gives USCIS the power to approve applications for adjustment of status on the basis of such I-526s and gives U.S. Consulates the power to approve applications for immigrant visas on the basis of such I-526s. Currently, there are 45 regional centers throughout the United States.

Unfortunately, the Pilot Program was extended only through September 30, 2009. This leaves investors in doubt–if they invest in a Regional Center now, their applications for adjustment of status or immigrant visas will only be approved after September 30 if the law is extended once more.

Such a short extension doesn’t exactly inspire foreign investors’ confidence in the American economy, does it?

EB-5 Investor Visa Update from USCIS

On Sept. 22, 2008, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released a powerpoint presentation with updates on the EB-5 investor visa program for Fiscal Year 2008. Here are the highlights:

  1. 12 new EB-5 regional centers were approved.
  2. 1017 Forms I-526, Immigrant Petitions for Alien Entrepreneurs, were filed.
  3. 350 Forms I-829, Petitions by Entrepreneurs to Remove Conditions, were filed.

What does this mean? First, with more approved EB-5 regional centers, investors now have more choices for passive investments, meaning more options for EB-5 investments that don’t require investors to establish and manage their own businesses. Second, while EB-5 filings are up, it’s still hard to call the EB-5 program popular–only a fraction of the total 10,000 visas per year are being used. You can see the powerpoint presentation here.

EB-5 News: Philadelphia Convention Center Investment Plan Falls Through

According to the below news story, CanAm has signed up 150 Chinese seeking EB-5 visas to invest in a company that would loan money to the Philadelphia Convention Center. The investors already deposited their money–$500,000 each–in escrow, apparently as long as a year ago. The only problem is that the Convention Center doesn’t want to borrow the investors’ money. Now, the investors need to start over and identify new investment opportunities.

Clients often ask our firm what are the risks associated with a particular EB-5 investment. Here, as CanAm admits, there was a risk in raising the money before the Convention Center approved the deal. I wonder how many of the investors understood that risk.

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Philadelphia Inquirer
July 22, 2008

Chinese millionaires turned away: The Convention Center board says the money presents too many issues.
By Jennifer Lin and Marcia Gelbart

Close to 150 Chinese millionaires want to help Philadelphia expand its Convention Center, but the center’s board wants no part of their cash.

That has left the potential investors more than a little frustrated.

For the Chinese, the money represents a legal way to expedite access to U.S. “green cards” for permanent residency. Adhering to the requirements of a nearly 20-year-old federal immigration program, they have each plunked down $500,000 in an escrow account at a U.S. bank.

For the state, that money – $73.5 million – could be a cheap way for the Convention Center to borrow funds to cover some of the expansion’s construction costs, which are projected to surge over the $700 million budgeted. (Under the loan program, the money would be repaid, over five years, at a remarkably low interest rate of 2.5 percent.)

But for now the Convention Center, as cash-starved as it is, has no interest in the foreign funds.

“We considered it. We looked at it. But it was kind of a bridge too far . . . too complex for us to consider,” Buck Riley, chairman of the 15-member Convention Center Authority, said last week. “Right now, it is a dead issue.”

Another board member said the board was hesitant to get involved with what seemed like “immigration policy.”

Known in Philadelphia as the “Welcome Fund,” the little-known loan program has been administered jointly since 2003 by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC), a city-related nonprofit economic-development agency, and CanAm Enterprises, a New York firm that has structured immigrant investor deals since 1987, mostly in Canada.

PIDC identifies potential borrowers; CanAm seeks out investors. Approved investors receive conditional green cards.

Within two years, they become eligible for permanent green cards, if, among other things, their money spurred jobs. Under the Philadelphia program, 10 new jobs must be created for every $500,000 invested.

To date, the foreign funds have helped pay for 21 projects in Philadelphia totaling $148 million. Among those receiving investment dollars are Comcast Corp. ($26 million), Temple University Health System ($13 million), August Aerospace Corp. ($15 million), the law firm of Duane Morris ($6 million), and Stephen Starr’s Continental Mid-Town restaurant ($3 million).

“We owe $33 billion of debt on our balance sheet, so if we have an opportunity to borrow some money at 1 or 2 percent, yes, we’re going to do it,” said Comcast executive David L. Cohen.

With $73.5 million sitting in a bank account, the Convention Center project would have been the largest, by far.

“Investors like the Convention Center project. I feel very sad about this. Everybody is getting angry,” Dennis Chou said in an interview last week in Shanghai. Based in an office in a high-rise on Beijing Road, Chou works for CanAm, marketing the fund to would-be investors in the Asia-Pacific region.

Chou said he was told last February to begin marketing the Convention Center to investors, and he did – holding informational sessions about the center and Philadelphia throughout China.

Quickly, 147 investors were lined up, but with no movement since then, he said the fund’s credibility was under fire. “When people come in, I have to say, sorry, sorry. I don’t know how to explain to our customers.”

Indeed, CanAm’s president, Tom Rosenfeld, said that if the Convention Center deal collapsed, “it would hurt the whole program.”

In an interview from his New York office, Rosenfeld acknowledged there was a risk in raising the money before the Convention Center approved the deal.

But he said he did so after discussions with officials from the Rendell administration and PIDC. “The state is financing the construction. Clearly they have a say in it.”

Although the authority was not involved in those early conversations, Rosenfeld said, “the assumption was once they understood the program and the benefits, and that it was not harmful, they would vote for this thing.”

Michael Masch, Pennsylvania budget secretary until a few weeks ago, did not return calls last week.

But he voiced support for the loan program as recently as June 3 in a letter to the authority. By his estimates, he wrote, the low-cost loan could save the authority $6 million to $8 million on interest payments.

Peter Longstreth, president of PIDC, said, “Some of the investors may have gotten a little bit ahead of the deal. . . . The fact there are funds in an escrow for a period of time is quite typical.”

The Convention Center has taken no formal vote on the program and has more or less shelved it for the foreseeable future.

“It did not go over well. It seemed something outside our realm,” said board member David Woods, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Domenic Pileggi (R., Delaware).

“People were concerned they were dealing with immigration policy while they should really be focused on financing for the Convention Center.”

Still, Rosenfeld maintains hope that the investors’ efforts will not be futile, particularly since final construction costs remain unknown. “I’m not taking this to be a dead issue,” he said. “This is a great program that doesn’t cost the city or state any money, so shouldn’t Philadelphia benefit from it in a way that can complete construction of the Convention
Center?”