EB-5 Commentary

New Article Analyzes the Cost of Raising EB-5 Capital

Posted by Phil Cohen on Tue, Nov 01, 2016 @ 01:10 PM

 

In a new article by Strategic Element's Phil Cohen and attorney Rohit Kapuria of Arnstein & Lehr, LLP the cost of raising EB-5 is analyzed and discussed.  The article focuses on one of the most-often asked questions by those seeking to raise capital under the program, but which is rarely addressed in a comprehensive way.

What is the Cost of EB-5 Capital.jpg

Understanding the total cost of raising capital and the factors that can affect this cost is of critical importance to anyone looking to start a project and raise capital under the EB-5 program.

See the article published in the most recent issue of EB5Investors Magazine, online here, or in the hard copy publication.

 

Phil Cohen is the founder and president of Strategic Element Inc., a company focused on the development of EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports and feasibility studies. www.strategicelementconsulting.com

 

Tags: capital raise, EB5 capital, EB-5 Project, What is EB-5?, EB5, start EB-5, Cost of Capital

Why Use All-in-One Service Providers To Start EB-5 Regional Centers?

Posted by Phil Cohen on Mon, Feb 29, 2016 @ 11:26 AM

I often get calls from people who are new to EB-5 trying to understand the process and the details of starting an EB-5 regional center or project.EB 5 Service Providers resized 600

While the idea of calling around to industry experts appears to be commonplace, it may answer the initital questions but there are so many details and subtleties to the program that, inevitably, these new EB-5ers end up with more questions than when they started.

This is common and it speaks to the complexity of the program and how the rules shift for every specific situation. Calling around is not a bad idea to start, but be careful of taking it too far as differing opinions among professionals can end up in frustration for some.

Another approach for EB-5 newbies is to consider speaking to all-in-one service providers, who can bring the right set of seasoned experts to the table and spearhead the process of managing all the moving parts in a coordinated manner, typically at a price that is competitive with what one would get in trying to do it all themselves (without the benefit of project management that these providers offer).  All-in-one providers can identify problems and questions to be addressed, sooner rather than later.  They are also familiar with what is not available to most: the basis of various RFEs (requests for further evidence) from USCIS, from a long experience and history of researching what has occurred with other regional centers.

The cost to your overall development of getting an RFE or not getting it right the first time can far outweigh the cost savings one might get from trying to manage the project yourself. A good all-in-one shop will save most people considerable time and money in the long run, and will help put together a EB-5 project, business plan and application that not only minimizes the likelihood and/or severityof an RFE, but which can also help to avoid errors arising from (often subtle) issues that can hold up an entire project.  

The other key benefit of using an all-in-one provider is that they have a good view into the investor side of things as well, so not only will they help to devise a project and business plan (the heart of the application) with the strongest likelihood of approval, but they can also help you to structure details in such a way as to be as palatable as possible to investors. The fringe benefit is about 1,001 less headaches as well.

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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: EB5 Regional center, EB-5 explained, EB-5 investors, USCIS, EB-5 Regional Center, EB5

On Using Borrowed Funds to Invest in EB-5 Projects

Posted by Phil Cohen on Mon, Nov 16, 2015 @ 05:59 AM

 

It is important to note that when an EB-5 investor uses borrowed funds, for example, from a home equity loan or from a company equity loan to invest in an EB-5 project, USCIS will likely ask for proof that the EB-5 investor can repay this loan.

For many investors, this may be easily achievable, yet for others it may not be so easy, which could be in part why they needed to borrow the funds in the first place.

An example of when this type of scenario can work occurs when an investor uses a home equity loan of $500,000 to attain the funds needed for the EB-5 investment.  If however, the investor's total debt on the home is, for example, $1 million on a $5 million home (after borrowing against the home to make the EB-5 investment), the investor could easily argue that they could liquidate the home and repay the loan.

It is a great advantage to investors to be able to use borrowed funds in this way, but all parties should be wary of the pitfalls in doing so.  For regional centers, investors' ability to pay back the loan should be vetted before the investor's I-526 is submitted, and assurances in writing should be asked from the investor to demonstrate that the status of their loan or their ability to pay it back will not change any time soon.

 

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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: EB5 Regional center, EB-5 investors, I-526, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, EB5

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 a TEA for EB-5 Regional Center Projects

Posted by Phil Cohen on Thu, Jul 30, 2015 @ 06:38 AM

Why a TEA?TEA Target Employment Area resized 600

A question often asked of EB-5 professionals is, "why should I seek to have my EB-5 regional center in a TEA (Targeted Employment Area) if it only reduces the investment requirement for EB-5 regional center investors, meaning that I will need to find more investors to raise the same amount of money?"


Simply put, the answer is the saleability of your deal.  EB-5 regional center investors have to put their capital at risk for a period which is usually at least 5 years and for returns that are below market for a comparable level of risk.

For these key reasons, EB-5 regional center investors seek to invest the lowest possible amount in a given project.  As a result, most EB-5 regional center projects are put into TEAs and projects that are not at a disadvantage, unless they are able to entice investors with other benefits.

New Legislation Proposed

It is worth noting that the proposed Leahy-Grassley bill could have an impact on how a TEA can be devised and its impacts on EB-5 investment. While the prevailing sentiment in the EB-5 industry is that the bill will not be passed in its current form, some or all of the proposed changes (or amended versions of them) could come into effect. These proposed changes include:

- A TEA would need to be an area consisting of a single census tract that has 150% of the national average unemployment rate (or a closed military base or a rural area).
-TEA designations would apply for two years instead of the current one.
-For TEAs based in a Metropolitan Statistical Area or Combined Statistical Area, at least 50% of a project's job creation must be within that Metropolitan Statistical Area or Combined Statistical Area to be counted.
-If a TEA is outside of a Metropolitan Statistical Area or Combined Statistical Area, then at least 50% of the jobs must be created within the county in which the TEA is located; if not, the total number of jobs will be reduced until the 50% threshold is met.
-The minimum investment amount for projects based in a TEA would increase to $800,000.

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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: Target Employment Area, EB-5 investors, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, EB-5 Regional Centre, EB5

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

Canadian Immigrant Investors: Thinking About Moving To EB-5?

Posted by Phil Cohen on Mon, Apr 20, 2015 @ 06:58 AM

describe the imageThe Canadian government unveiled its new Federal Investor Program replacing the prior program which was very popular with immigrant investors.  Unfortunately, the government has gone from one extreme to the other, moving from a program that was one of the most secure offerings around to one which is considerably more risky, vague and which will appeal only to a  select few, in this author's opinion.

The EB-5 program is quickly proving itself to be a viable alternative for immigrant investors who have been pushed out of the Canadian Federal Investor Program.  Like the Canadian program, the EB-5 program allows foreign investors the opportunity to get a path to citizenship in the United States based on making a qualifying investment.  EB-5 investments must be made in a qualifying business and must be 'at risk' (although this does not mean necessarily 'risky').

Some key points about the EB-5 program:

  • The investment required is $500,000 as long as the business being invested in is located in what's called a Target Employment Area (most are)
  • The typical investment horizon is five years
    although some opportunities are for six years or seven years
  • The typical return to investors is in the range
    of 1% per year, but this varies widely from project to project

There are many other considerations involved in looking at the program and one should take good advice from legal counsel and/or from business consultants who may be able to help.

The EB-5 program has all kinds of businesses participating, some good and some not so good.  The key to mitigating risk in the program, in my opinion, is to work with a company that carefully selects projects that it represents and does a significant amount of due diligence (i.e. one in a position to know good from bad and one who is in a position to choose the best).  It also helps to see that the company that you work through does not take on more than one or two projects at a time, so that there is no conflict of interest in how it represents projects.

Those interested in taking advantage of the EB-5 program should be aware that the US government has imposed a start date of May 1, 2015 for 'Chinese visa retrogression,' whereby citizens of China may be put on hold while other countries get an opportunity to have access to the visa quota.  If other countries do not fill the quota then the program will be reopened to Chinese citizens. Chinese EB-5 investors can still have their applications processed and approved, but they will not be issued their green cards until retrogression is lifted again at the end of the program year (September 30, 2015).   

For Chinese citizens especially, it is suggested that moving ahead sooner rather than later on making an EB-5 investment will give them good placement in the backlog line, thereby allowing them to avoid what may end up being a multi-year wait, such as the situation was in Canada.  It is expected that there will be an influx of investors from Canada who will no longer be able to apply to the Canadian program.

Still need help figuring it out?  Contact me.

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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: Chinese Investors, EB-5 explained, EB-5 investors, I-526, EB5, EB-5; Canadian Immigrant Investor

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

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

(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