Revisiting the EB-5 with Eyes Wide Open

Those of you who've been reading me for awhile — as in from the "Port of Entry" days back when dinosaurs ruled the Internet — probably know that I have been rather, er, vocal about my opinion about the EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa, particularly the Pilot Program Regional Center investment vehicles.  The truth is that over the years, my encounters with Regional Center projects were invariably negative, triggered by would-be investors mortified to learn that their long-promised permanent residency had been denied, usually for reasons ranging to lack of capital risk to dubious job-creation evidence.  Each time, the solution was pretty much the same: an L-1/EB-1 structure would save the day.  In fact, as recently as several months ago, I again restated in this blog my ongoing belief that EB-5 Regional Centers only made sense for retirees. 

Well, it appears that my conclusion was as wrong as it was dated.  Enter one Roger Bernstein, old friend and distinguished Miami immigration attorney.  In the past 24 hours, Roger and his team have educated me on the "NEW" EB-5 Regional Centers and what's really going on out there.  And so I am sitting down to educate you as I finish the last slice of the Crow Pie I've just been served.

From what I've been able to read and understand over this past rather fruitful day, my recent criticism, while not wholly obsolete, is indeed an anachronism.  In simple terms, I've been like the guy who just can't shake his early '80s haircut, firmly embracing his mullet with conviction and defiance.  So let me go from Joe Dirt to pay dirt and set the record straight on today's EB-5 Regional Center opportunities:

1- There are dozens of EB-5 Regional Centers approved.  Many are duds, some are okay, and a few are rare gems, not ONLY delivering the promised permanent residency but giving investors actual returns on investment.  (Now, THERE'S a concept; in the early years of the EB-5 the half million bucks required for an investment in a designated high unemployment zone was seen as the price of admission, no more; the notion one could actually make a buck…)

2- Some of the new Regional Centers offer very creative, intelligent business models which meet the "at risk capital" and "indirect job creation" objectives soundly, while legitimately limiting the hands-on involvement of investors who want permanent residency but don't want day to day involvement in the business.  Among the most compelling models: the "mutual fund" structure, which essentially directs investor funds to a variety of sectors, industries, and public-private partnerships, the EB-5 equivalent of "diversifying your portfolio".

Perhaps the most significant development: no longer are the EB-5 programs the exclusive territory of shady wheelers and dealers…some of the most credible names in our business are getting involved. (STOP before you email insults: I KNOW some of the veteran programs have been set up by legitimate players, but remember that the only ones I got to inspect were the ones that went kaput!)

Two South Florida immigration law colleagues, in fact, are among the legit players: Larry Behar structured Florida's first Regional Center, the prestigious Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa.  And now Roger is spearheading several new centers in Florida: one focusing on commercial real estate in South Florida and the innovative Florida Overseas Investment Center , a hybrid new concept in EB-5 structure which merges multi-sector investments (geriatric care, forestry, health care, agriculture, etc.) – like a mutual.

This is exciting stuff, Folks!  It appears that under the guidance of some very committed and clear-headed experts, this whole notion of actually attracting foreign investors to the U.S. might finally be going the way Congress wanted it to go…when our economy needs it most.