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

Pros & Cons of Different EB-5 Business Plan Types

Posted by Phil Cohen on Mon, Jul 20, 2015 @ 11:42 AM

For those considering making an EB-5 investment, you will no doubt hear of three different kinds of EB-5 business plans: hypothetical, actual and exemplar. Each kind of business plan has different benefits and drawbacks from the investor's perspective. This article will provide a brief explanation of each type of business plan and what it means to investors.

Any kind of EB-5 business plan could be submitted alongside a regional center application, while a so-called 'direct' application requires the use of an exemplar EB-5 business plan.

Hypothetical

A hypothetical EB-5 business plan is a plan that provides an approximate overview of the project in question. The details required for a hypothetical plan are usually very high level and non-specific. Details in a hypothetical plan can include economic model inputs, feasibility study or information and general proposals and predictions. The benefit of using a hypothetical plan is that it allows the project owners to move more quickly in terms of getting their project financed, which adds to overall project stability. On the downside, however, investors should be aware that when a hypothetical plan is used, a more formal or exemplar plan would need to be submitted with the project's first investor (I-526) application. From the investor perspective, this means that the business plan is effectively being reviewed and approved by USCIS for the first time with the first investor's I-526. If an investor is among the first to apply for an I-526 under a given project which uses in an exemplar plan, the project would effectively be reviewed for the first time by USCIS at that time. Subsequent investors in a given project would likely benefit from USCIS giving deference to the project approval based on the first investor's approval.

Actual

An actual EB-5 business plan is a more or less complete plan although it may be missing some critical pieces such as offering documents. The pros and cons of an actual plan from the investor perspective are similar to those of a hypothetical plan, although presumably USCIS will review the information that is in front of them with regard to the plan itself. Although the project would not benefit from a formal USCIS approval, project developers would benefit from having feedback from USCIS on what was submitted. In effect, this means that the risk to the investor of the project itself not being approved at the I-526 stage is smaller than in the case of a hypothetical plan.

Exemplar

An exemplar plan is a complete plan, which includes offering documents, transactional documents and evidence that the project is shovel ready (i.e. ready to start right away). When USCIS accepts an exemplar plan, it is very unlikely that the plan itself would be challenged at the I-526 stage. This kind of approval provides investors with the least overall risk of USCIS refusing the project part of their application.

Does That Mean Exemplar Plans Are Best?

Not necessarily. As a general rule, investors may prefer the security that comes from an exemplar plan being used, however, it is worth noting that the team behind the project, experience with EB-5 and the team that does due diligence on the project can provide significant added value in terms of mitigating the risk or ensuring that the deal in question is a good one. If an investor's application is not accepted at the I-526 stage due to project deficiencies, with a good team this only means that there may be some delay in processing the I-526.

It is also worth noting that proposed changes to the EB-5 program (not yet approved), would not allow for the marketing of projects to investors without approval of an exemplar business plan, which is a departure from current rules, which allow for marketing once a hypothetical plan is filed.

The best advice for investors is to look for a quality project first and to ensure that whoever is representing the project is experienced in EB-5 and has done a significant amount of due diligence. Given the sea of choices in EB-5 today, investors should consider the quality as the top priority and worry less about delays, which can be common regardless of the kind of business plan being used.

 

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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 Team, Chinese Investors, EB-5 Project, EB-5 investors, I-526, USCIS, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center

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?

The Risks and Rewards of EB-5 Investment

Posted by Phil Cohen on Thu, Jun 04, 2015 @ 10:46 AM

Risk and Reward

While EB-5 capital is commonly used for mezzanine capital by the companies raising funds, the investors essentially face a venture capital-level risk profile. When considered in this way, the return in dollars to an EB-5 investor is considerably below market for this risk profile.  This is no secret and it is the model that the industry has settled into, for the most part.  This model appears to make sense for all concerned since the investors get the added benefit of a path to US citizenship if the businesses create the requisite jobs, giving them enormous perceived value for their investment, while at the same time the project developer faces additional risk, time and cost in setting up a project to fit the EB-5 program.

With this view in mind, one should remember that venture investment is inherently risky, ask any venture capitalist.  Even better, have a look at venture capital funding lists to see the kinds of businesses that get funded every day by seasoned investors, some very odd and seemingly risky businesses indeed.  According to a September 2012 Washington Post article, “About three-quarters of venture-backed firms in the U.S. don't return investors' capital, according to recent research by Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School”.  By comparison projects that I’ve seen available via the EB-5 program today would seem to be far less risky than that, on the whole.

This is not to say that some deals in the EB-5 marketplace do not, in some cases, put forward overly aggressive projections and/or assumptions, but this is true of many businesses seeking funding, whether they are seeking EB-5 capital or not. Like for any business investment, investors must thoroughly investigate the EB-5 project's business plan, claims being made, the team and even the companies who are representing the deals.  This can be done in part by feasibility studies or by other consultants who specialize in project reviews, feasibility studies or the like.

Managing Risk

Are there people with bad intentions in EB-5?  There is no doubt that there are people out there who might come to think that investors will be blinded by the possibility of attaining a green card and will fall for a bad deal without looking at it too closely.  While this is not true for the great majority of EB-5 deals that this author has seen, nobody can say that it hasn't happened.

Should an investor be careful in making an EB-5 investment? 100% and unequivocally yes! Investors must investigate any project that they are looking at investing their hard-earned dollars into and this cannot be stressed enough.  Every deal has pros and cons and good and bad elements and the investor should weed out all the risks for themselves (or get a knowledgeable consultant who can help them) so that they can make a decision that they are comfortable with.   Will there be deals out there that don’t succeed? Likely so; it is a free market after all and the statistics for failures of new businesses in America show relatively high numbers. It would be safest for investors to assume that EB-5 deals would not be different on the whole, although EB-5 deals are often brought to market by experienced teams and the author does not believe that EB-5 business failures are even in the same ballpark as published statistics on the whole.

There are many deals for EB-5 investors to choose from today and investors must choose the project and risk profile that suits them best, and again, they absolutely must investigate any business deal, EB-5 or not.  I have seen investors willing to take undue risk in their EB-5 investments in their eagerness to move themselves toward the opportunity to participate in the American dream.  Spending more time to check out every detail, however, will help to ensure that the investor can choose an investment leads the desired result with the least amount of risk.  So EB-5 investors don't rush, investigate everything and then make the choice that you are most comfortable with.

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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: capital raise, EB-5 Team, EB-5 Project, EB-5 explained, EB-5 investors, EB-5 regional centers, EB-5, job creation

(Updated) The Cost of Raising Money via EB-5

Posted by Phil Cohen on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 @ 08:11 AM

describe the imageIf you are an entrepreneur looking to attract investors to your project, becoming an EB-5 regional center can create a very compelling reason for foreign investors to provide you with financing.

Many people, however, don’t fully understand the complexities of the EB-5 regional center application process, or the costs involved.  One can apply to become an approved EB-5 regional center through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) using form I-924.

The filing cost of form I-924 is $6,230. However, many entrepreneurs don’t account for the other costs of a successful regional center proposal which include:

  • The services of an economist to provide the detailed economic impact analysis required by USCIS
  • The services of immigration, securities and business attorneys to develop and thoroughly vet the documents associated with the proposal
  • A detailed business plan outlining capital mix, return forecasts, exit strategy and other investment metrics
  • Possibly the services of a firm who will spearhead the management and coordination of your application
  • The services of an experienced EB-5 project manager are strongly recommended, especially for those new to the process
  • We also suggest that the regional center's website be up and running prior to the submission of an I-924

As a general rule of thumb, we encourage clients to anticipate a budget between $125,000 and $175,000 to get a full regional center application prepared and submitted, including the first 'exemplar' project plan. This cost can vary mostly according to the costs of the various professionals involved.

If a client wants to work with an existing regional center and not form their own, we would recommend budgeting between $70,000 and $150,000, in addition to the cost charged by the regional center (regional center charges and deal structures (as well as included services such as marketing) for taking on a project vary quite considerably.

Once approved, or at least once marketing starts, there are other costs to consider as well:

  • Agency fees for each successful investor (this is mostly the case for China, although agents can be found in other countries)
  • Marketing costs (including brochures, travel, DVDs, information packets, Powerpoint presentation, translation of materials, etc.)
  • Escrow fees, as appropriate
  • Insurance costs
  • Administrative costs for tracking and reporting to investors and USCIS
  • Interest to investors

Clearly there is much to consider when evaluating the ROI on EB-5, however, this is where an experienced team provides value in terms of saving unnecessary costs and avoiding pitfalls.

Understanding the Application Process

While the filing fee for form I-924 is a fixed cost, these other costs may vary depending on the size and complexity of your project and business plan. It’s important to understand the full scope of the application process to determine the costs involved.

Becoming an EB-5 regional center can be a powerful attractor for foreign investment, in units of $500,000 or $1,000,000.  The regional center designation can attract high net-worth investors that would otherwise not target your enterprise as an investment opportunity. However, the process of achieving this designation is not easy, and requires your full understanding to ensure success.

To fully unlock the potential of the EB-5 program, you need to arm yourself with the right information; ill-informed entrepreneurs can waste thousands of dollars and many hours trying to navigate the I-924 process.  Gain a full understanding of the EB-5 program with the EB-5 Definitive Guide.

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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 Regional Center Application Cost, EB5 Regional center, regional center EB5, EB-5 Team, EB-5 investors, EB-5 Business plan, EB-5 Regional Center, EB5