EB-5 Commentary

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).
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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: EB-5 center I-924, EB-5 Team, I-526, EB-5 Regional center processing times, I-924, 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.

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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, 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.

 

 

 

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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: 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.

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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, 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.

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

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.

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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

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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