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EB-5: Who’s after China?

With Chinese investors forced to wait for visas, other countries step into the fray

June 01, 2015     By E.B. Solomont

http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/eb-5-whos-after-china/

Kate Kalmykov 律师去年每隔一个月就要飞往中国去招揽EB-5生意。今年,她的行程安排囊括了新的目的地:越南、巴西、墨西哥和迪拜。

“越南在经济上大概就是中国10年前的样子。一部分阶级的人已经迅速获得财富”,在Greenberg Traurig工作的Kalmykov说到。

正如房地产业界所熟知,中国投资者已经狼吞虎咽掉绝大多数EB-5签证。但是因为任何国家的签证获得数量都不能超过总数的7%,中国申请者现在首次被列入等待名单。这给其他国家的投资者敞开了大门,而担心失去中国人资金的纽约开发商也正在寻求他们。

根据EB-5行业的贸易组织Invest in the USA,去年EB-5投资者在美国投资了25亿美元。

在2014年提交的10692份申请当中,中国投资者占了9128,也就是85%。第二高的是韩国,只有225,也就是2%。

然后新的国家也在赶上。

根据美国国务院的统计数据,尽管还很低,来自阿拉伯联合酋长国、尼日利亚、俄罗斯、印度还有越南的投资者数量有显著的增长。

2014年,阿联酋投资者为121,相比2013年只增长了2个。而越南投资者也是121,但是相比前一年增长了46。与此同时,俄罗斯投资者为100,增长了70个。尼日利亚为50,和2013年的23个相比增加了一倍。

EB-5热度的潮起潮落往往和全球政治与经济形势相吻合。

在2011年,来自伊朗EB-5投资者的疯长与阿拉伯之春不谋而合。埃及自2012年之后又重新表现出对EB-5的兴趣,去年有37份申请。

Kalmykov说来自巴西投资者的兴趣与那里的不稳定相关联,也就是迟缓的经济、政府财政缩紧和与国有石油公司有关的受贿丑闻。“人们对他们自己的未来,他们生意的未来还有他们的安全感到担忧,”她说。

来自迈阿密的律师Scott Bettridge说:“新兴市场正在成为EB-5的温床。”

他说尤其是来自巴西和委内瑞拉的投资者加入了中国投资者成为EB-5项目的先头部队因为他们的国家与美国没有通商条约,所以他们的公民不能以其他投资签证来美国。

Morrison Foerster的房地产金融主席Mark Edelstein律师说来自韩国和印度的投资者正在崭露头角。很多的开发商和区域中心正在把目光转移到拉丁美洲。

Peebles Corporation的首席投资官Tawan Davis说EB-5项目需要吸引除中国以外的投资者来获得国会两党的支持。

“中国持续的投资是一件好事,但是我认为为了能让这个项目继续下去,它一定要包括世界的其他部分才行。否则,政治上的抵触会很严重。”

但是Kalmykov说中国投资者丧失对EB-5的兴趣是不太可能的。他们现在就在申请以确保在队伍变得更长之前能有一个位置。

EB-5律师Mona Shah说她也不认为中国EB-5投资者会被代替,因为他们的目的不同。

比如,南美洲投资者之所以寻求EB-5是因为他们想要移民美国,然而中国投资者要绿卡主要是为了能让他们的孩子在美国上学。

因为不是所有的中国投资者在搬家到美国,他们的投资决定做的是相当快速的。而世界其他部分还相对新也还在学习。

 

Attorney Kate Kalmykov flew to China every other month last year to drum up EB-5 business. This year, her travel schedule includes new stops in countries including Vietnam, Brazil, Mexico and Dubai.

“Vietnam is probably in the same place [economically] that China was 10 years ago. There’s a class of people that has rapidly gained wealth,” said Kalmykov, who works at Greenberg Traurig.

As most in the real estate world know, Chinese investors have gobbled up the vast majority of visas through EB-5 — the much-hyped program that grants foreign investors green cards in exchange for a $500,000 investment in a U.S.-based venture that creates at least 10 jobs. But because no single country is allowed more than 7 percent of the EB-5 visas, Chinese applicants are now being waitlisted for the program for the first time (see related story on page 56). That’s opening the door for other foreign investors — who are now being wooed by deal-makers in New York who are wary of losing Chinese money.

Last year, EB-5 investors pumped $2.5 billion into projects in the U.S., according to Invest in the USA, the trade group for the EB-5 industry.

Of 10,692 EB-5 applications filed in 2014, Chinese investors accounted for 9,128, or 85 percent. The next highest was South Korea, with just 225 investors, or 2 percent.

New countries are, however, beginning to step up.

While still low, the number of investors from the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Russia, India and Vietnam has shown significant gains, according to data from the U.S. Department of State.

For example, the UAE had 121 investors in 2014, up from just two in 2013, and Vietnam had 121 investors compared with 46 the prior year. Meanwhile, Russia had 100, up from 70, and Nigeria had 50, more than double the 23 investors who applied for EB-5 visas in 2013.

The ebb and flow of EB-5’s popularity often coincides with political and economic conditions around the world.

whos-next-quoteIn 2011, for example, there was a spike in EB-5 applications from Iranian investors that coincided with the Arab Spring. Egypt, too, has shown renewed interest in EB-5 since 2012, and last year saw 37 investors file EB-5 petitions.

Kalmykov said interest from Brazil is tied to instability there, namely a sluggish economy, austerity measures and a bribery scandal involving the state-owned oil company. “People are nervous about their future, their business future and their security,” she said.

Scott Bettridge, a Miami-based attorney with Akerman, said emerging markets “are becoming a hotbed for EB-5.”

He said investors from Brazil and Venezuela, in particular, are poised to join Chinese investors at the forefront of the EB-5 program since their countries don’t have treaties of commerce with the U.S. Given those circumstances, their citizens cannot come to the U.S. on other types of investor visas.

Attorney Mark Edelstein, chair of Morrison Foerster’s real estate finance and distressed real estate practices, said investors from Korea and India are also poised to make their mark. “A lot of developers and regional centers are running down to Latin America now,” he said. “China could shut off its spigot at any minute.”

Tawan Davis, chief investment officer at the Peebles Corporation, the Manhattan- and Coral Gables, Fla.-based development firm, said the EB-5 program needs to attract investors beyond China to retain broad bipartisan support in Congress.

“China’s continued investment is a good thing; but I think for the program to be sustained, it has to be about other parts of the world [as well],” he said. “Otherwise the political backlash will be severe.”

But Kalmykov said it’s unlikely that Chinese investors will lose interest in EB-5. “They’re all trying to file right now and secure their place in line before the backlog balloons further,” she said.

Mona Shah, an EB-5 attorney and principal of the Manhattan-based Mona Shah & Associates, said she, too, doesn’t think Chinese investors will be replaced at the top of the EB-5 heap. “Their goals are different,” she said, of how Chinese investors view the program.

For example, South American investors turn to EB-5 because they want to emigrate to the U.S., whereas Chinese investors primarily want green cards so their children can attend school in the U.S., she said during The Real Deal’s New Development Showcase & Forum last month.

Because not all Chinese investors are looking to uproot their lives and relocate to the U.S., their investment decisions are notoriously fast. Meanwhile, she said, “The rest of the world is still relatively new and still learning.”