EB-5 Commentary

Still Opportunities in the Crowded EB-5 Market for Great Deals

Posted by Phil Cohen on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 @ 07:22 AM

Many ChoicesBad EB 5 Deals resized 600

Over the last 3 years, the EB-5 program's popularity has exploded.  With the recent rush leading up to the September 30th, 2015 program deadline and a second 'mini' rush expected leading up to the temporary extension of the program to December 11th, the market is flooded with deals at the moment.  And yet, there is still opportunity for the strongest deals to succeed.

What Makes a Good Deal?

There are many factors that make up a good deal.  Investors are first concerned with getting their green card, which in turn means that the business has to create the jobs successfully.   Depending on which economic model is used and whether direct and/or indirect jobs are being claimed by the regional center project, investors may have to look at different factors to determine the likelihood of job creation, as presented by the project in their EB-5 business plan and economic impact report.

Because investors are also concerned about the preservation of their initial investment capital, it helps considerably to either have a deal with a strong collateral base or a very strong likelihood of the business's success (which is preferred over collateral).

Another key element to a good deal is not only the number of jobs to be created (with a sufficient buffer over the required amount) but also the likelihood that the project will be able to create those jobs. One great example of this comes in the form of bridge financing. Bridge capital can be used to move a project forward before EB-5 investors come in, which enables a project to show the development that is already underway, which in turn gives investors additional confidence.  More importantly, bridge financing allows a project to spend money (that is used as an input in the economic model) before investors come on board, which effectively means that job creation has effectively been fulfilled (to the degree that the money spent comprises the input in the model) before EB-5 investors come into the deal.

It is also helpful if there is an opportunity to have backup exit financing in place for a deal ahead of time that will help a project to relieve EB-5 capital at the time of the investor's exit.

There are a multitude of factors that come into play in defining what comprises a good deal. Many of these factors would be sought by any investor, let alone an EB-5 investor, however, there are  unique deal elements sought solely by EB-5 investors.  Many of these factors play off against each other, making for a relatively complex dynamic which must be balanced by any regional center or project owner wishing to raise capital successfully.

It is also worth noting that the program's allowance of job creation via 'tenant occupancy' or 'troubled business' designations affords additional opportunities for job creation, however, these approaches have proven to be difficult to get approved.  Because these are technically difficult for a project we, and many others in the industry, tend to advise clients to avoid them.  Simpler is better.

How to Strike a Balance That Sells

The best way to establish a deal that will sell to investors is to make oneself aware of the various possible permutations that can be considered in terms of structuring a deal and finding a combination that fits the deal and also suits investors.  Players who are newer to the game will have to offer more favorable terms to investors compared with regional centers or project owners who are more established and can offer deals that may not be as strong but will still be preferred by investors simply because of the reputation of the regional center or the project team.

Those wishing to start an EB-5 regional center or EB-5 project would be well advised to check with their advisors regarding what kinds of additional factors play well with investors in order to develop the right mix.

Why go to the trouble and expense of setting up an EB-5 regional center and project if your deal will not resonate with EB-5 investors?  Take the appropriate steps to ensure that you are not one of the many EB-5 regional centers who end up being inactive.

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

 

 

 

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Tags: EB5 Regional center, regional center EB5, regional center EB-5, EB-5 explained, EB-5 investors, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center

Counting Construction Jobs for EB-5 Regional Center Job Creation

Posted by Phil Cohen on Wed, Oct 14, 2015 @ 02:05 PM

Do Construction Jobs Count?construction resized 600

When starting an EB-5 regional center many want to know if direct construction jobs can be counted.  The applicable rule for counting construction jobs in an EB-5 regional center project is that the construction time for the project must be two years in duration, from start to finish. If the project qualifies, direct construction jobs can be counted, but due to the nature of construction (teams work for relatively short time periods) these jobs must be calculated by an economist. Indirect construction jobs calculated by an economist are always allowable.

How is 2 Years Defined?

There is some question as to when the construction period starts; is it when demolition or digging begins or is it when concrete is poured (i.e. the beginning of vertical construction)?  USCIS does not have a definitive guideline on this point, however, we do try to encourage clients to try to focus on vertical construction in order to mitigate the risk that USCIS may not view demolition or digging as construction.

3rd Party Verification

Of course, as soon as this construction allowance was declared, there were many who started to say, "we can make it last two years."  Unfortunately it's not that easy.  USCIS has taken steps to prevent people from exaggerating construction timelines by asking for third party verification of estimated construction times from independent experts. 

Doing it Right

The ability to count construction jobs is a huge benefit to the EB-5 program, because they are easy to document and they are relatively easy to fulfill.  Be sure, however, that if your regional center is planning to count construction jobs that it does so in a calculated and realistic way.  Remember too that if you are calculating construction jobs based on expenditure estimates, you should be careful about using conservative expenditure estimates.  While conservative estimates are desirable at most any other time, if your estimates are guessing high on expenses, and you come in under budget, the applicable construction job calculation for your investors at the I-829 stage (when they are seeking to get conditions removed from their green card) will be based on the actual funds expended.  This point is true of course for all expenditure-based job creation estimations.

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

Tags: Construction, EB-5 Project, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, job creation

Are Jobs Created by Tenants Eligible for EB-5 Job Creation?

Posted by Phil Cohen on Tue, Oct 06, 2015 @ 02:48 PM

Tenant occupancy job creation in an EB-5 business plan

I am often asked about whether an EB-5 project can count jobs that are created by tenants of a particular development.  For example, if someone is developing an EB-5 project or business plan to build a shopping mall and each individual shop is leased out to third parties who will operate their own retail businesses, can all the jobs created by the tenants be counted towards qualifying EB-5 job creation?

The short answer to this question is yes, it is possible, however, where this was once an easier task to accomplish, USCIS has since issued guidance that must be adhered to in order to qualify these positions.

The following is the guidance language issued by USCIS on the matter, however, as is often the case there is a question of interpretation on several points.  We have added our own comments to the text (in bold) but please recall that we are not lawyers and our interpretations are based solely on the language we see.  Many of these will likely require change as adjudications clarify the policy.

From USCIS December 20th, 2012

"December 20, 2012 GM-602-0001
Guidance Memorandum

SUBJECT: Operational Guidance for EB-5 Cases Involving Tenant-Occupancy


Purpose

This guidance memorandum (GM) is intended to facilitate adjudication of cases involving issues related to the "tenant-occupancy" methodology for establishing job creation in EB-5 cases. The guidance has been formulated following careful internal deliberation, consultation with sister government agencies, and review of responses to requests for evidence (RFEs) issued in February 2012 to a number of outstanding Regional Center applicants who relied on the tenant-occupancy methodology. This guidance will be applied to pending cases and cases filed on or after the date of this guidance that rely on the tenant-occupancy methodology. This guidance does not rescind or supersede other EB-5 guidance.

Scope

Unless specifically exempted herein, this GM applies to and binds all U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employees.

Background

Among the issues raised in the February 2012 RFEs, USCIS sought evidence that the projected jobs attributable to prospective tenants (which would occupy the commercial space created by the EB-5 capital) would represent newly created jobs, and not jobs that the tenant had merely relocated from another location. This determination is necessary to assess whether there is a reasonable causal link between the EB-5 enterprise and the job creation that would allow for the attribution of the tenant jobs to the EB-5 enterprise. These RFEs suggested the types of evidence applicants could submit to make this showing.

Implementation

Prior to issuing the February 2012 RFEs, USCIS determined that the tenant-occupancy methodology can satisfy the EB-5 program requirement of presenting a "reasonable methodology" that is "supported by economically or statistically valid forecasting tools," if the applicant presents in "verifiable detail" information sufficient to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the tenant jobs have resulted from the EB-5 enterprise (i.e., that the creation of tenant jobs were facilitated by the EB-5 enterprise, for example through a showing of constraint on the supply of appropriate commercial space or of excess demand for such space)."

Our interpretation: have to show excess demand or constraints on supply

"In regional center cases that rely on tenant occupancy models, as in any other regional center
cases, USCIS requires evidence that the claimed jobs result, directly or indirectly, from the
economic activity of the EB-5 commercial enterprise. Jobs that are merely re-located rather than created do not count. With respect to indirect job creation, the task for the applicants and
petitioners is to project the number of newly created jobs that would not have been created but for the economic activity of the EB-5 commercial enterprise. In making that projection, they are to use economically and statistically valid forecasting tools."

Our comment: This can be done by an economist, above and beyond the normal economic impact report

"Whether an applicant or petitioner has demonstrated that an EB-5 enterprise caused the creation of indirect tenant jobs will require determinations on a case-by-case basis and will generally require an evaluation of the verifiable detail provided and the overall reasonableness of the methodology as presented. To claim credit for tenant jobs, applicants and petitioners may  present evidence backed by reasonable methods that map a specific amount of direct, imputed, or subsidized investment to such new jobs."

Our Comment: things such as tenant improvements and, rent abatements MAY qualify as a form of investment.

"However, for applicants and petitioners that instead seek to utilize a facilitation-based approach, USCIS will not require an equity or direct financial connection between the EB-5 capital investment and the employees of prospective tenants."

Our interpretation: if we are facilitating the development of a new business (e.g. setting up a building geared to restaurants with a kitchen, etc.), then USCIS does not need to see an overt nexus between money and jobs.

"Rather, facilitation-based tenant job credit will depend on the extent to which applicants or petitioners can demonstrate that the economic benefits provided by a specific space project will remove a significant market-based constraint. One way applicants and petitioners can make this showing is to indicate how a specific space project will correct market imperfections and generate net new labor demand and income that will result in a specified prospective number of tenant jobs that will locate in that space.

Our Interpretation: creating new demand for business by creating that business in the first place, will in effect create new job demand.

Continuing below: investing in a specific market category in a high unemployment area the project need only show that they are filling an 'investment void' to generate new demand.

"In high unemployment areas in which new projects are not likely to significantly displace other income or labor, applicants and petitioners should generally indicate how a specific project will fill an existing investment void in that area to generate new demand for the tenant business. Prospective tenant jobs demonstrated by reasonable methods and supported by verifiable evidence pursuant to the above approaches may be used as direct inputs into appropriate regional growth models to generate the number of indirect and induced jobs that result from the credited tenant jobs."

"Where applications for regional centers are approved based on their use of tenant-occupancy
projections, the approval notices should contain appropriate language regarding the assumptions underlying the approval, which if not borne out may impact related adjudications at the I-526 or I-829 stages. 1  For example, a Form I-924 with I-526 exemplar may be approved where no specific tenant has been identified to occupy space but where the applicant or petitioner reasonably projects that a restaurant will eventually lease the premises.2  If, after approval of the I-924, the space is leased to a different type of tenant (i.e., a type of restaurant that yields different expected employment or a non-restaurant), or fails to achieve previously projected occupancy rates, such a change alone will not generally constitute a material change that triggers the elimination of deference in an actual Form I-526 or negates any possibility of individual investors removing their conditions at the Form I-829 stage."

Our Interpretation: an I-526 exemplar based on tenant occupancy may be approved based on the projection that a certain type of tenant will lease the space. 

"3  However, while such modified tenancy arrangement(s) may be permissible under EB-5 program rules, they could nevertheless impact the project’s ultimate job creation numbers. Therefore, the approval notice should caution that the approved job creation estimates are based on a restaurant occupying that space, and that if no tenant or a different type of tenant eventually occupies the space, the economic impact analysis and ultimate job creation numbers will be revisited in future adjudications that relate to that project.

USCIS will issue separate guidance on crediting jobs in a situation where more than one EB-5 entity may be seeking credit for the identical job position. In the interim, where only one case filed with USCIS has sought credit for a specific job position, that case should be credited with the job, provided that all program requirements have been satisfied.

Adjudication of cases involving tenant-occupancy should proceed based on these principles.

Use
This GM is intended solely for the guidance of USCIS personnel in the performance of their official duties. It is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or by any individual or other party in
removal proceedings, in litigation with the United States, or in any other form or manner."

 

Final Word

Ultimately, the rules set some guidelines but we have seen considerable push back from USCIS in terms of how these guidelines have been interpreted in some cases.  Those wishing to include tenant occupancy job creation in their EB-5 business plans, should try to work with counsel who is experienced in the area and in particular who has been able to study some related RFEs.  Because of the pushback we have seen on the issue, we tell our clients to carefully consider how important it might be for them to be able to count tenant occupancy jobs, and that if they want to pursue this course, they should be prepared to jump through some hoops.

From a marketing perspective, due to the likelihood of a project getting RFEs in relation to tenant occupancy job claims, one should assume that the investor and agency community might be less enamored by a business plan showing tenant occupancy jobs, especially if it has not yet been approved by USCIS.

 

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

 

 

Download Your Free Paper:  9 Things to Know  Before Going Down  The EB-5 Road

 

Tags: EB-5 center I-924, EB5 Regional center, EB-5 Project, EB-5 investors, I-526, tenant occupancy, EB-5 regional centers, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, job creation