EB-5 Roundup: Visas, Currency Controls, and Rich Kids

By David North on September 4, 2015

If your lawyer tells you not to something, it is a sure clue that some of his clients have, in fact, done that wrong thing.

Maybe that's especially true in the EB-5 (immigrant investor) program that provides a set of green cards to families investing half a million dollars in DHS-approved, but not guaranteed, investments.

With that in mind let's turn to a bilingual missive from EB-5 lawyer Bernard Wolfsdorf. The bilingualism in this case is not the usual English/Spanish, it is English/Mandarin, as the vast majority of EB-5 aliens are from China

In an article titled "Urgent Practice Advisory for Preparation of Source of Funds Reports", the lawyer strongly recommends that clients and others tell the same story about themselves and their finances to the U.S. government every time. The strong implication (to me at least) is that some aliens have told the United States one story when seeking a tourist visa, and another when applying for an EB-5 visa.

He gives his readers the benefit of the doubt, saying "Unfortunately, many nonimmigrant tourist applications are completed by other than the actual applicant who may submit inaccurate information." I can't quite tell who is giving the government the wrong information in that sentence, but then it may be perfectly clear in Mandarin.

The lawyer then paints a scary picture saying: "As a result of data sharing between the Department of State (Bureau of Consular Affairs) and USCIS this information is cross-checked with information previously provided regarding past and present work experience, education, and training [in the earlier visa application]."

One can only hope that USCIS is that careful.

China's Policies on the Export of Capital. If the United States is fussy about the paperwork, China is worried about the outward flow of money, adding another set of complications for many would-be EB-5 applicants.

According to Epoch Times, an English-language publication sympathetic to the anti-Communist Falun Gong movement:

Individual Chinese face a $2,000 a day limit on moving funds outside of China, with an overall limit of $50,000 a year. If Chinese want to move more money overseas they have to go through the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) and show that the funds were legitimately obtained, and taxes have been paid on them.

Beijing is also cracking down on corrupt politicians and businessmen, some of whom are trying to move their ill-gotten gains to the United States or some other safe haven. That large numbers of wealthy Chinese have been able to secure EB-5 visas suggests that the Chinese government's efforts at capital control are not always successful.

Rich Kids. When I was in college, I was surrounded by rich kids and, as managing editor of the campus daily, I had my ears attuned to news of all kinds, but I never heard of attempts to raise investment capital from those students.

In contrast, look at this headline from Immigration Daily: "America's Untapped Multi-Billion Dollar EB-5 Investor Market: The Oft Forgotten F-1 Visa Holder – The International Student!"

The author, a venture capitalist, writes "[T]he students' ability to enhance their own personal 'marketability' for employment can be achieved by not needing their employer for visa sponsorship. A solution for this in most cases, is the EB-5 program."

The writer is partially correct, in that an EB-5 visa gives its holder, and his or her spouse and kids, the rights to legal employment in the United States. It's an expensive route for the current or former F-1 student, and it certainly is less demanding of the employer than causing the employer to obtain either an H-1B, or a green card, for the alien in question.

The writer is, however, better at the concept than at program operations. He speaks of 1 percent of the current foreign student population, which he puts at 700,000, as being able to afford the EB-5 program, and then sees this as a $3.5 billion EB-5 market. How one could jam 7,000 additional people into a program that has already maxed out the 10,000 visa ceiling is not discussed, nor is the fact that most investors bring an average of 1.5 relatives with them, thereby further reducing the number of available visas.

Maybe venture capitalists should be allowed to dream and we should not expect too much reality in their statements.