EB-5 requirements for an investor in a Regional Center are essentially the same as in the basic EB-5 investor program. Regional Center investments allow for a less restrictive job creation requirement because they can include both “indirect” and “direct” jobs.
For both the 1 million and 500 thousand Direct Investments, the foreign investor must be present and must be actively involved in the management of the business. He retains complete control of the finances of the business.
However, for the Regional Centers, the investor is not involved in the management of the project and has no control over the money that he invested. He does not need to be present at any time and can live anywhere in the US, regardless of the location of the Regional Center business.
Procedural changes planned for next year will bring longer delays in obtaining visas. The time it takes to get new visas could increase from a few months to up to two to three years. Delays could make the program less attractive to Chinese investors who want to get visas and green cards quickly for family members. And, the possibility of longer waits for visas could reduce EB-5's usefulness for developers who are on tight deadlines to complete their projects.
An estimated 80 to 85% of the EB-5 funds in 2014 came from China, where there are concerns about the country's environmental and economic health and many wealthy families are considering migration. The money from Chinese investors has been used to build Regional Center projects across California and elsewhere, including the JW Marriott hotel at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles.
The Pomona Ranch Plaza, a 74-acre development with 350,000 square feet of retail space and 350,000 square feet of office space, is under construction using EB-5 Regional Center funds. In San Bernardino, city officials said EB-5 investors contributed $96 million and 4,000 jobs to the local economy. In Kern County, a 328,500-square-foot retail center is expected to bring 1,664 jobs.
Long delays at CIS could also negate the main reason many Chinese immigrants apply: Residency for their children. People older than 21 aren't eligible for green cards. If it takes up to three years to process an application, many children could be too old.
Some potential Chinese investors may be discouraged by long waits for visas, but this will mean that more visas will be available to investors from other countries.
The states with the highest numbers of regional centers are California, Florida, and Washington. EB-5 Funding has also helped rebuild the Las Vegas economy. In 2013 the first EB-5 project, the Downtown Grand, was built, followed by SLS formerly the Sahara Hotel. Additional New Casino Projects obtaining EB-5 funding on the Las Vegas strip include Lucky Dragon, Dynasty Hotel Casino, Clarion Hotel, and World Resorts.
A Regional Center is not connected in any way to the US government. It is a private financial venture that arranges for investment in businesses that meet the requirements of foreign investors. The foreign investor simply transfers $500,000 plus a start up fee to the Regional Center. After that, the Regional Center has complete control of the investment money and the financial return to the investor is usually minimal. To some investors, the Regional Center is attractive because they do not need to be personally involved in the running of a business. And, they are free to live anywhere in the US, can bring their spouse and children under 21, and just need to wait for CIS final approval of the business.
The downside of Regional Centers is that they maintain complete control of the foreign investor’s money. If the Regional Center puts the money in a business that quickly fails, or that does not meet CIS requirements, the foreign investor will have to start the EB5 Green Card process all over again. And there is no guarantee that the investor will see all or any of his $500,000 investment again.
In the past some Regional Centers did not maintain the requirement of creating ten jobs for US workers or did not satisfy CIS that they were functioning according to the requirements of the program. As a result, CIS investigates new Regional Center applications more carefully, and approvals of these new centers are slower.
In any trustworthy Regional Center program, the center will put the investor’s $500,000 in escrow until CIS approves a visa for the investor. If a Regional Center states that they will start using the money as soon as it is received and will not wait for CIS visa approval, then the investor should be wary.
Q.1. For EB5 investments, what is the biggest challenge that potential Vietnamese investors face?
A.1. Business and accounting procedures in the US and Vietnam are quite different, so the potential Vietnamese investor may have difficulty providing a complete paper trail for the money he plans to invest in the US.
Q.2. What about the dependents of Green Card investors?
A.2. An investor’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 can be admitted to the U.S. with the investor. The spouse and children will be authorized to work or attend school in the U.S. The investor’s children over 20 may have a chance to accompany the family, if they are eligible for CSPA, though CSPA for EB-5 investors is not as helpful as CSPA for family based immigrants.
Q.3. After a Green Card investor gets his permanent Green Card, how long does he have to wait to apply for US citizenship?
A.3. He can apply for a permanent Green Card after two years and then must wait five more years after that to apply for US citizenship.