EB-5 Commentary

What Does An Ideal EB-5 Business Plan Look Like?

Posted by Phil Cohen on Thu, Jan 14, 2016 @ 09:49 AM

describe the image

If you are a follower of this blog, you are likely already aware of the "Matter of Ho" business plan requirements as well as several other requirements that have been issued by USCIS via policy memoranda, RFEs (Requests for Further Evidence) and other unofficial statements. The question comes in, however, as to what level of detail is sufficient for a qualifying business plan.

Some attorneys and advisors are of the mind that a shorter business plan is better as longer plans by definition (in their opinion) are inherently committing the entrepreneurs behind the business to doing more, or at least that's the concern.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that longer plans with more detail give USCIS very little wiggle room when it comes to questioning details and issuing RFEs. We count ourselves in the second group and we believe that our record with RFEs proves the point. When we develop our business plans, we are of the belief that more detail is better, while at the same time we are careful to minimize forward-looking statements which would bind any entrepreneur to doing more than they would be committed to doing if they were to submit a shorter plan.

We believe that this approach works, not only because we rarely see RFEs for our business plan work, but also because we believe that preventative efforts to minimize RFEs go a long way for our clients in terms of helping them to avoid extra time and/or expense in getting their EB-5 projects approved if an RFE should be issued by USCIS.  Indeed, when we are asked to fix business plans written by others because of RFEs, we commonly see plans that provided too few details about important matters, leaving room for questions to form in the mind of an adjudicator.  

Thinking things through in detail is a way of forcing oneself to answer questions that others may have as well.  Similarly, a good business plan developer will provide that detail without over-committing the business to specific actions where it is not necessary to do so; rather, they will use the detail to make the business concept more convincing and to demonstrate that the entrepreneurs behind the business are experienced and serious about what they are doing.

The other reason that we err on the side of more detail, is that we are providing investors, who also see the plan, with enough backup information to give them comfort about the project and a level of security relating to their investment, making it an easier 'sell' for the entrepreneur.

True, longer plans do typically cost more, however, the incremental amount of investment for addressing this step thoroughly is minimal in the context of other professional costs and the cost of the whole process and the value of the benefits it can provide to the entrepreneurs and ultimately to the investors represents a considerable ROI in the long run.

The trick, from our perspective, is to assume that many readers are not likely to read every single detail of the business plan, so we structure the plan in such a way as to make it easy for the reader to find what they are looking for, and also to easily find any supporting detail, should they wish to dig deeper.

We suggest speaking to several service providers before making any decisions on your EB-5 team, however, given that a business plan is one of the least expensive (and key) parts of the process, we encourage anyone considering going down the EB-5 road to consider not just the price but the overall value the strongest-possible plan can deliver, both in terms of reducing the likelihood of an RFE and in terms of satisfying investor needs.  

------------

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: EB-5 center I-924, EB-5 explained, EB-5 investors, EB-5

EB-5 Regional Center Application Approval Times

Posted by Phil Cohen on Tue, Nov 24, 2015 @ 07:17 AM

One of the most common questions EB-5 professionals are asked from those thinking about starting an EB-5 regional center is, "How long will it take to get approved?"

The answer to this question is multi-layered.  The actual time it takes for USCIS to process an EB-5 regional center application is constantly changing.  Officially, the last-posted processing time on the USCIS website was as follows (I-924 is the official name for an initial regional center application package):

EB-5 Processing Times    Source: USCIS

What people really want to know, however, is how long it takes to get money in the door. There are several things to consider in order to get the real answer here:

  1. Do you have your team together?  This is a critical first step; it is important to understand who you need and how to choose your team.  This step should not be rushed.
  2. Do you have all the answers that your team will need?  Do you know what those things are?  Save yourself a ton of time and expense by finding good resource to help you understand what you'll need to get started.  This information goes beyond a normal start-up's requirements and waiting until you have your (often expensive) team together means that you will quickly come to rely on them for guidance on things that you might have easily discovered on your own at far less expense with a good resource.
  3. Is your deal good or great?  Talk to marketers early on to understand what will make a deal stand out in today's market.  Good deals can sell; great deals will sell faster.
  4. From there the package needs to be assembled and your team of experts need to do their thing.  Depending on your EB-5 regional center's complexity, expect anywhere from 1 to 2 months on average to get your package assembled and ready for submission.  Most experts will tell you that the clients take much longer.
  5. Once your package is submitted you can start marketing.  How will you market to foreign investors?  How big is your raise?  How saleable is your deal? The answers to these questions will have an impact on how quickly you can get the capital you are seeking.
  6. Once you win investors, each investor must submit their own petition to have themselves approved as an EB-5 investor.  This adds several months to the process (for each investor).
------------

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: EB-5 center I-924, EB-5 Team, I-526, EB-5 Regional center processing times, I-924, EB-5 Regional Center, job creation

Heard About Flexible Adjudication to Save Time on EB-5 Projects?

Posted by Phil Cohen on Thu, Nov 05, 2015 @ 02:47 PM

As readers of this blog are likely aware by now, the rules flexible resized 600
and processes involved in the development of an EB-5 regional center application are relatively complex and often subject to interpretation by the lawyers involved and also by the adjudicators. 

As a result, in anything but the most straightforward of cases, an issue often arises around whether the question has been properly answered or whether certain rules apply in particular ways or in particular unusual circumstances.

When facing these kinds of unknowns, developers of EB-5 regional centers and EB-5 projects are often in the position of putting their best foot forward and hoping for the best when it comes to the adjudication of their I-924 application (or the project plan itself).  In these circumstances some project or regional center founders might find themselves in a dilemma in terms of whether to submit their business plans as "hypothetical" or as "actual”/"exemplar" plans.  The reason for the dilemma is that a hypothetical plan requires less detail to be approved but if one can have their plan approved as an exemplar plan then they can benefit from deference to this approval when their investors submit their I-526 petitions.

When unsure, there is the possibility of trying to get the maximum benefit of an exemplar approval without losing time should USCIS determine that there is insufficient information to approve the plan as an actual/exemplar.  The way to go about this is to make a written request when the project is being submitted that the plan be adjudicated as an actual/exemplar, but if this is not possible to adjudicate the plan as a hypothetical.

In most cases, this will not hold up the process and allow the entrepreneur to move ahead with the project as quickly as possible should they not be able to get actual/exemplar approval right away.  Saving the step of a re-submission can also save some of the costs involved in doing so.

------------

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 explained, EB-5 investors, I-526, applications, EB-5 regional centers, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center

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.

 

------------

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

Using Escrow in EB-5 Projects

Posted by Phil Cohen on Tue, Sep 15, 2015 @ 02:30 PM

describe the imageMany EB-5 regional center projects these days no longer wait for approval of their exemplar or hypothetical project business plans before releasing EB-5 investors' funds to a qualifying project.  This approach may work for some, but when starting an EB-5 regional center or project it is recommended to think twice first.

Avoiding escrow represents an additional element of risk as far as investors are concerned because the investor does not get the benefit of knowing whether there might be an RFE issued by USCIS for this particular EB-5 project before their funds are committed (and accordingly, what the nature of that RFE might be).  Typically, the best recommendation from the investor's perspective is for new EB-5 projects or regional centers to make use of escrow so that the funds may be held in trust while USCIS's review of the project business plan is pending.  Over time, as the EB-5 regional center and/or project manager builds its reputation for delivering for EB-5 investors, it might make more sense to ask investors to take this 'leap of trust,' although these projects will always be up against other choices that do make use of escrow.

Some EB-5 regional centers might make use of other options.  For example, one option is to release a portion of the funds immediately to the project and another portion later, when the investor's I-526 application is approved.  This approach mitigates some risks for both sides but also poses some risk for both sides.  For example, if an investor is denied their I-526 application they will have committed half their funds to the project already by this point. Depending on the terms of the agreement, the funds that have been committed may not be refundable to the investor which would obviously be a concern for them.  This is not ideal for the investor, but at least in this scenario the risks are shared by both parties.

It is always a bit of a balancing act for EB-5 regional center and project founders to come up with a deal that allows them access to capital without having to wait nine months or longer, while the regional center's I-924 or exemplar, actual or hypothetical I-526, is reviewed by USCIS.  In this time other project fundamentals may change, resulting in new challenges to the project's overall success.  At the same time if investors perceive too high a level of risk, they may simply look elsewhere.

To compound this challenge, the ground is constantly shifting within the EB-5 world itself, with long processing times, changing policies or directives from USCIS and a rising number of established and reputable regional centers developing proven track records.

We advise our clients who are starting EB-5 regional centers to consider reputation first in order to be able to make use of the EB-5 program in the future.  As one's reputation becomes established and re-proven, the time to win over investors will very likely be shorter in the future as the market comes to consider a given team as a known quantity with demonstrable results.

------------

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, capital raise, EB-5 Regional Center Application Cost, regional center EB5, EB-5 explained, program, EB-5 investors, EB-5 regional centers, EB-5 Regional center processing times, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, EB-5 Regional Centre, EB5

Building, Buying or 'Renting' an EB-5 Regional Center: Which is Best?

Posted by Phil Cohen on Thu, Sep 10, 2015 @ 07:14 AM

starting an eb-5 regional centerWhen looking to start an EB-5 regional center one can launch a new regional center from scratch, make a deal to use an existing one or alternatively if the stars are aligned, one can look to purchase an existing regional center (likely one that is inactive).

The risks of starting a new regional center from scratch generally include the time and expense of doing so.  However, if starting a new regional center then the regional center's founder is assured of a clean slate and of having a regional center that exactly suits their needs.

On the other hand, if one wants to buy an already-existing regional center, one may do so if the right opportunity is available.  The right opportunity should generally mean that the regional center in question does not have a tarnished reputation, that they are approved for the industries in which the project would like to operate and that the regional center is approved for the appropriate geographic area of focus.  It is worth noting that the recent policy memo issued by USCIS now states that geographic area can be amended at the I-526 stage (when the investor submits their petition), although this means that investors will be left uncertain as to whether this might actually happen until their application is adjudicated and the details of this policy change remain unclear. Another important note regarding buying a regional center is that while the entity itself can be purchased, a formal amendment would be required to allow the new owners to operate the regional center in question.

If one wants to start an EB-5 regional center by purchasing an already-existing entity, they should look first for the right territory (or a regional center that borders on the territory to which they would like to expand).  One way that this can be done is to research approved EB-5 regional centers on the USCIS website.  The website will indicate in what state that EB-5 regional center is operating.

Alternatively, to determine the specific geographic area and the industries of focus, one approach is to make contact with the regional center itself.  As a first step, one might explore the prospective regional center's website (if there is one) to see if they have posted their initial approval letter, which will outline the geographic area of focus and the approved industries. In the event that any changes to geographic area of focus or approved industries would be required in advance of submitting any I-526s, the regional center would need to file an amendment application with USCIS.  Filing an amendment may be a little simpler than filing for a new regional center, although the time it takes USCIS to approve an amendment may be just as long as filing for the regional center in the first place.

If a prospective EB-5 regional center has been identified, the next step would be to contact the regional center to discuss with them how active they are and whether they might be interested in selling the entity.

The biggest challenge overall in purchasing a regional center is assessing the reputation of the regional center itself and whether they have had any issues in relation to a bad history with investors or a past reputation that was somehow negative.  If one has the resources to do this, purchasing a pre-existing regional center may be a viable alternative that can save potentially months of time that it might otherwise take to develop and file a properly composed EB-5 regional center I-924 application.

In another blog article I discuss the notion of using an existing regional center as a sponsor of a project, sometimes called 'renting' a regional center.

 

 

 

------------

 

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: amendment application, EB-5 center I-924, EB-5 Regional Center Application Cost, EB5 Regional center, regional center EB5, EB-5 explained, EB-5 investors, USCIS, EB-5 regional centers, EB-5 Regional center processing times, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, What is EB-5?, EB5

The Importance of Feasibility Studies for EB-5 Projects

Posted by Phil Cohen on Tue, Jul 07, 2015 @ 02:44 PM

Feasibility studies are becoming more and more commonplace in the EB-5 world to prove the feasibility and plausibility of a given EB-5 regional center project.  This isEB5 regional center application resized 600 especially true for larger projects but also for projects where feasibility studies are common, such as in the hotel business, but it is becoming more common for almost any EB-5 project.

When things become common in EB-5, the community often starts to treat them as (essentially) expected by USCIS in order to be safe. Indeed, when it comes to increasing the professionalism of what is being presented for an EB-5 project, USCIS seems to follow suit as often as not. Indeed, some recent RFEs have asked for formal feasibility studies.

Using a feasibility study developed by a reputable source is the best form of market, competitive and overall plausibility analysis for the project in question, minimizing any reason for USCIS to respond with an RFE for these particular points. In our business we consider it a best practice and strongly recommend that our clients make the investment in these analysis reports where it is reasonable to do so.

Always seek to maximize your odds of success the first time when it comes to starting an EB-5 regional center and/or project application.  Feasibility studies can help to save processing time and money in the long run and are adding an extra layer of safety for those looking to get project approvals before the upcoming September 30, 2015 sunset (and expected renewal) date for the EB-5 program, and looking to stay ahead of the possibility of needing to comply with proposed changes to the program upon renewal that would result from the Grassley-Leahy bill, should it be passed in its current form.  Of course, the added overall benefit is providing an extra element of credibility to your investors.

------------

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, EB-5 Regional Center Application Cost, EB5 Regional center, regional center EB5, EB-5 Team, regional center EB-5, hotel, EB-5 explained, EB-5 Regional center processing times, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, What is EB-5?

Many Flavors of Escrow for EB-5 Regional Centers (Updated)

Posted by Phil Cohen on Fri, Jun 19, 2015 @ 07:38 AM

As the EB-5 space continues to grow and mature, so do many aspects of putting aescrow eb5 regional center regional center together continue to change.

Escrow and EB-5

For a time, most all regional center deals involved an element of escrow for the investors.  In this case, escrow meant that the EB-5 investor commits to the investment in writing (subject to certain conditions, including approval of their I-526 petition) and while their I-526 was being reviewed, their investment sat in trust with an escrow company, who would release the funds to the project upon the investor's I-526 approval (or otherwise back to the investor, subject to certain conditions, if the approval was not attained).

Changes Afoot

Today, this is starting to change.  Some regional center deals forego escrow altogether, while others still might use escrow more creatively.  On the whole, we recommend to new regional centers to make use of escrow in the traditional sense as outlined above, at least while they establish their reputation and trustworthiness in the market.  The exception to this rule occurs where a regional center or project team can offer investors other reasons to develop a feeling of trust, such as a proven track record of the company and team that is behind the project. On the other hand, it is understood that waiting for I-526 approvals can take so long that it can threaten the viability of a project.

Different Approaches

EB-5 investors are often nervous, particularly around untested EB-5 entities, but if trust is established then some of the other options in escrow can be explored.  Among these options are the use of holdbacks, or the use of reasonable trigger mechanisms.

The holdback approach to escrow means that a certain amount of the funds among a pool of investors can be released to the project at a certain point.  For example, every time the regional center gets commitments from 10 investors it might release half of the funds it takes in to the project, holding back the other half to allow for failed I-526s or other allowable refunds.

The trigger mechanism approach could occur where a regional center, for example, releases escrow funds to a project upon the approval of one (or any reasonable number) of I-526 petitions for a given project, which would indicate that the project portion of the I-526 is being approved by USCIS and that denials, if any, would be due to a deficient investor application.  Others still, might offer to release escrowed funds the moment the I-526 is filed providing there is a legally-binding developer's guarantee in place.

Get Creative

Building trust should always be the first priority of a regional center in terms of how it positions itself to investors, largely conveyed via the EB-5 business plan.  With a good reputation a regional center's long term prospects can be very bright indeed.  As trust is built and earned among the investor community a regional center can start to look to other options in relation to its escrow structure and its deal structure generally, whereby investors might feel comfortable taking on certain risks which will ultimately enable a higher degree of both project and regional center stability.  Like any investor, EB-5 or not, the bottom line is that the more risk an investor has to take the more secure the investor needs to feel about the rest of your project or the companies behind it.

------------

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, regional center EB5, escrow, EB-5 investors, I-526, EB-5 Regional center processing times, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, EB5

Guest Expenditures in EB-5: A Double-edged Sword

Posted by Phil Cohen on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 @ 06:55 AM

On the February 26, 2014 stakeholder’s call EB-5 Investmentwith USCIS they clarified when indirect job creation could be attributed to guest expenditures.  This is good news primarily because guest expenditures were never allowed to be used before.  More specifically, USCIS stated that guest expenditures could be counted when a project:

  • is serving an unmet demand in its area
  • is providing a differentiated product (i.e. a
    product that is not otherwise available in the area) targeted to a specific
    market segment
  • is being developed in response to
    (and presumably to serve traffic resulting from) a new development in the community

On the surface, this appeared to be good news for the EB-5 community, as guest expenditures can have a significant impact on indirect job creation figures.

The Downside

There is a downside, however.  As many have documented in the case of tenant
occupancy, it often proved to be very difficult to know exactly how USCIS would interpret various attempts to meet the standards, given that they are not very specific.  With approval times as long as they are today, the unknown is whether or not USCIS would accept given justifications on a case-by-case basis. Since guest expenditures could arguably have an impact on job creation and therefore the amount of money that an EB-5 project could raise from EB-5 investors, this unknown could have an impact on the capital stack and project timing if there is a delay or considerable back-and-forth in dealing with USCIS.  

To the extent that a project can afford the time or can otherwise be flexible in terms of their capital stack, attempting to use guest expenditures can have a significant upside.  Most, however, would find that it would be very challenging to have to change an anticipated capital stack according to whether or not the use of guest expenditures would be allowed.

Over time, it is anticipated that more clarity will come both from USCIS in terms of policy memoranda and from the EB-5 community as we see what is accepted and what is not and the  reasons for those decisions.  In the meantime, however, many have seen significant pushback from USCIS when they have attempted to use guest expenditure.

Investors would also do well to try to recognize when guest expenditures are part of the plan, especially in a case where a hypothetical plan was submitted.  Until there is more clarity on what will be acceptable in the eyes of USCIS, guest expenditures can add some additional potential risk or delay in relation to the investor's approval at the I-526 stage.

 

------------

 

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: EB-5 center I-924, capital raise, EB-5 Regional Center Application Cost, EB5 capital, EB-5 investors, applications, USCIS, tenant occupancy, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, job creation

Knowing the Cost of an RFE to Your EB-5 Regional Center

Posted by Phil Cohen on Sun, Apr 05, 2015 @ 02:59 PM

Cost of RFE to EB5 Regional Centers resized 600What is an RFE?

An RFE is a request for further evidence.  RFEs are issued by USCIS when EB-5 regional center (or investor) applicants have not adequately presented sufficient information when applying to form an EB-5 regional center or an associated project, or if the information presented requires more clarity (the submission application is called the I-924).

Avoiding RFEs

The best way to avoid an RFE is to ensure that you have a good team in place and that you have had your I-924 package reviewed by qualified, experienced experts.  There can be no guarantees that an RFE can be avoided, since USCIS has made significant policy shifts without warning and in some cases, has appeared to issue RFEs that did not make sense to the applicant or their team of professionals.  However, this does not mean that one should not make every effort to avoid getting an RFE.  On the contrary, the rule of thumb that we follow is to present things at a higher level than necessary; more is better than less, as long as it is clearly documented and professionally presented so that an adjudicator will not miss it.

The Real Cost of an RFE

RFEs can be very costly, and can even sink a project.  Why? Depending on the actual substance of the RFE, an EB-5 regional center applicant may need to re-engage some of their team of experts, spend time addressing the RFE and preparing a response, which must then be submitted to USCIS for review. In some cases the RFE may even lead to a need for the applicant to shift an element of the business plan or strategy from what was originally intended, which can impact the project in unexpected ways.  In addition to the time it took to get the first application ready, submitted and reviewed (up to 12 months or more to get reviewed by USCIS alone, once submitted) an RFE could mean many more months of waiting, which can put certain kinds of projects at risk of failure.  The total cost will vary in each case, but in most cases it is safe to assume that an RFE could cost thousands of dollars and several months of additional waiting time.

If prospective EB-5 investors ask if you ever had an RFE and you are new to EB-5, not disclosing this would be untruthful and disclosing it can create the impression of wrongdoing to the investor even if this is not actually the case.  The long term effects of an RFE can mean lost opportunities with EB-5 investors.

Bear this in mind when choosing your EB-5 business plan writer,legal team and economist in particular.

 ------------

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

Visit www.starteb5.com

Tags: EB-5 center I-924, EB-5 Regional Center Application Cost, EB5 Regional center, regional center EB5, regional center EB-5, EB-5 explained, EB-5 Regional center processing times, EB-5 Regional Center, EB5