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怎样选择一个好的EB-5项目?

Kyle T. Walker          于 November 18, 2014 at 21:23:06:

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尽管如何选择好的EB-5项目,仁者见仁,智者见智,但是本文,从一个有着多年区域中心项目运营经验的业内人当一个合格的外国公民决定通过EB-5投资移民的取得成美国合法永久居住权,这个投资者面临的最关键的问题是:“我应该选择什么样的EB-5项目?”

任何EB-5申请人需要关注的是:
1) 条件性永久居留权──这个EB-5项目会不会帮助我尽快通过I-526申请,以及成功地通过美国领事馆面谈?
2) 永久居留权──这个EB-5项目是否能够产生至少10个全新的永久就业机会为投资人尽快解除条件限制?
3) 还款/退出──这个EB-5项目是否能够及时有效地返还投资款?

在一个EB-5项目里, 对以上三点起到决定因素的是参与者、区域位置、时间。

参与者

一、 项目发起人──项目开发商或运营商;负责项目建设和运营的团队(创造就业机会)。当评估一个开发商时, 下面几点是主要需要考虑的问题:

a. 经验──此开发商是否了解项目开发和运营并在上述方面有丰富经验?这个开发商做过几个类似的项目? 这个开发商是否参与负责EB-5项目发售?
b. 概念验证──此开发商是在复制以往经过验证的成功模式, 还是在尝试开发一个全新的概念?
c. 开发商股权──此开发商是否在项目里有风险资本,还是全部用他人的资本在运作项目?
d. 合理的假设──此开发商的商业计划是否已经通过第三方市场研究验证?

二、EB-5区域中心──投资移民是一个有很多利益相关体介入的复杂过程。区域中心是这个过程中的重要枢纽,协调不同利益相关体的关系并维护EB-5投资者的利益。当评估一个区域中心时, 下面几点是主要需要考虑的问题:

a. 经验──此区域中心有多少I-526和I-829批复失败的案例?这个区域中心有多少成功融资的项目? 这个区域中心的负责人对整个项目的开发和运营有足够的经验吗?
b. 员工──此区域中心是否有足够的员工来运作复杂的EB-5项目?
c. 可联系性–由于亚洲和美国之间存在显著时差,这个区域中心是否在您的国家设有办事处?
d. 承诺──此区域中心是否将EB-5作为长期业务,还是仅仅把EB-5作为为单一项目融资的工具?
e. 报告──此区域中心是否向美国移民局提交年度I-924A资质表格?根据美国证券法规定, 这个区域中心是否向美国证监会提交了非公开招募认购资质的D表格?

* 注–并非所有的区域中心都是相同的:一般来讲有下列四种区域中心商业模式:
a. 自筹资金型区域中心──区域中心只为其拥有人的项目筹集资金。
b. 金融服务型区域中心──区域中心为第三方的项目方筹集资金。
c. 租赁型区域中心──区域中心通过租赁协议与其他区域中心合作。
d. 混合型区域中心──以上类型的组合模式。

三、项目方团队──区域中心、项目方与一系列第三方专业报告公司合作制定项目发行招募书。此招募书将作为EB-5投资者I-526申请的部分文件一起递交给美国移民局,以遵循各项符合区域中心资格的规定。

a. 移民律师──投资移民是移民法的一个独特的部分。投资者的移民律师和项目方的移民律师应该对投资移民的过程有丰富的经验。
b. 证券法律师──EB-5项目发行同时涉及到移民法和证券法两个领域。重要的是,起草EB-5项目招募书的证券法律师应该对EB-5本身的复杂性具有实践性的认知,并在起草时注意符合各项法律规定 (法规、法令、判例法和移民局的指导备忘录)。
c. 经济学家──创造永久就业机会是整个EB-5申请程序中确保申请批复的首要条件之一。由经济学家做的经济分析是I-526申请的中心环节(前瞻性陈述:证明这些就业机会将会被建立),并且这个经济分析的结果必须在I-829申请的时候证明是准确的(历史业绩:证明已经创造了这些就业机会)。经济学家对EB-5行业的熟悉程度和对近期案件审理趋势的掌握是选择最佳人选时需要考虑的重要因素。
d. 第三方报告──市场研究报告和项目估值报告是标准的第三方报告,用于证明投资者I-526申请中包含的前瞻性陈述。市场研究通过比较标准的行业数据,将验证计划的开发成本和预期的运营业绩。行业标准是经济分析的关键性输入数据,需要有资质的第三方机构提供,以满足当前移民局的裁决标准。

第三方的市场研究报告应该包括:
• 主要竞争对手项目调查(区域位置、物业年限、财务绩效和空置率)
• 提供一个市场供应和需求分析
• 利用第三方的行业数据支持假设的结论
• 对相似项目的开发成本和营业收入及支出做出合理比较
• 清楚地说明所作的假设和限制条件

项目估值报告虽不是必要的文件,但是对于退出策略而言又是非常重要的报告。项目评估是对市场上诸多变数的复杂评判,所以项目估值不应由区域中心或普通合伙人来完成。项目估值方应持有美国鉴定执照以确保最高的职业标准──这些都是评价估值报告正当性时需要考虑的重要条件。

考察制定项目文件的第三方公司背景和资历是很关键的──他们是声誉良好的全国性公司吗?他们是否擅长评估某个特定行业的项目?这是项目方委托发起的报告吗?他们的市场研究报告什么时候能够完成?他们以前完成过类似的报告吗?他们用什么可核查的数据来支持报告中的观点?

一个合格的第三方公司通常具有长期的良好声誉,提供高质量而客观的项目研究报告,并且他们还应拥有严格的内部审核机制,以防止任何对报告的操纵行为。

作为潜在的投资者或投资顾问,应该审慎地联系研究报告作者来确认他们是在报告上所列出的日期完成该研究报告的。

区域位置

EB-5 项目的位置对整个项目的运营情况和收回投资资本的成败起着关键性的作用(退出策略)。审核项目区位的因素在不同行业之间都有所不同。建立五星级酒店的好地段与建立工厂或太阳能发电厂的最佳区域都是不同的。

大部分的美国区域中心的项目位于目标就业区内(TEA),其中包括偏远地区,或是达到全国失业率150%的地区。大多数投资者选择投资金额要求是50万美元的目标就业区项目,而非最低投资数额为100万美元非目标就业区的项目。一个项目可以从两个方面证明目标就业区的资质:第一,提供由当地州政府机构批准的目标就业区资格信(每个州的情况不一);第二,在向美国移民局申请I-526时, 一起提供美国人口普查局的最新数据。 美国移民局已经表示,他们尊重由州政府提供的目标就业区证明,因此,州政府有效的目标就业区资格“提前审批” 为投资人和他们的顾问提供了更大的确定性。请注意,由于目标就业区的资格文件的有效期仅为一年,所以在递交I-526时,目标就业区的资格文件必须在有效期之内。 如果文件即将过期, 请询问区域中心是否有计划在I-526递案之前确保获得目标就业区的资格文件。

另一种方式来评判项目位置的优良程度是熟悉为您提供的第三方市场研究报告。高质量的EB-5项目会运用第三方市场研究去验证和支持其商业计划和经济分析里的项目位置分析。专业的市场研究报告不仅包括项目区位的大量信息, 还包括关乎项目区位从国家层面到地方社区的产业动态, 为EB-5投资人提供了市场需求和行业趋势的全方位分析。 一个有高需求、低供给和/或高增长率的区域位置是EB-5投资最理想的地域。

时间

EB-5是一个众多的利益相关者相互产生关联的过程,需要周密规划和一个确保在规定时限内达成预期结果的实施计划。 在这(5年)的投资移民运作过程中,市场波动可能会造成显著的影响。行业、地方和国家的发展趋势对项目的就业机会创造和及时收回投资有着至关重要的因素。

第三方市场调查将会为投资人提供一个关于竞争对手的深入性市场调查,以及国家和地方的发展趋势可能对这个项目产生的影响。有时项目尽管由一支经验丰富的团队运作, 但如果它不具备合适的投资时机,这将使项目在短期内严重地表现不佳,对EB-5投资者产生令人失望的影响。

结论

首先,管理经验在一个成功的投资移民项目里起着关键的作用。 区域中心区和/或普通合伙人的团队在项目里担任“经理人”的角色,负责选择移民法专家、证券法专家、项目发起人和经济学家。没有一个专业和经验丰富的“经理人”,将使项目存在无法达成既定目标的风险 。

一个声誉良好、有行业和市场经验的第三方报告公司所制定的令人信赖的报告是项目发行招募书的重要组成部分,并也用来验证I-526申请中假设和预测的合理成分。 估值报告和市场研究报告是执行项目尽职调查时两个非常重要的文件,并也应验证了该项目在选址和市场时机方面的优势。

请记住:合适的人、合适的地点、与合适的时间,是任何项目成功至关重要的因素。请着重于以上几个方面进行尽职调查,也许这将大大提高你引导你的投资人完成投资移民的成功机率。

本文作者:Kyle T. Walker,Managing Director of Green Card Fund,www.greencardfund.com。

How To Select a Good EB-5 Project

Once a qualified foreign national has decided to pursue an EB-5 investment as their chosen path for lawful permanent residence in the United States, one of the most critical questions facing investors is, “What EB-5 Project Should I Select?”

The primary concerns for any EB-5 applicant are:

1) Conditional Permanent Residence - Will the EB-5 project I choose result in the approval of my I-526 application and successful adjustment of status/consular interview processing?

2) Permanent Residence - Will the EB-5 project create sufficient jobs to prove the creation of at least 10 new full-time US jobs that will result in the successful removal of conditions?

3) Repayment/Exit - Will the EB-5 project be able to return my full investment in a timely and predictable manner?

The key determinants in deciding on whether a particular EB-5 Project will perform on all three of the above points are PEOPLE, PLACE, and TIME.

PEOPLE

1. Project Sponsor – developer and/or operator of the project; the party responsible for construction of the project and managing the operations (job creation). Important items to consider when evaluating the Project Sponsor:

a. Experience – Does the Project Sponsor understand and have experience in both the development and operations of projects in this industry? How many times has the Project Sponsor played a similar role in a project of this type? Is the Project Sponsor also overseeing the EB-5 offering?
b. Proof of Concept – Is the Project Sponsor replicating prior successes from a past project or testing a new concept?
c. Sponsor Equity – Is the Project Sponsor putting their own capital at risk or are they using other peoples’ money for the entire capital stack?
d. Reasonable Assumptions – Have the assumptions and projections of the Project Sponsor been validated by a credible 3rd party Market Study and/or Appraisal?

2. Regional Center – EB-5 is a complicated process with many diverse stakeholders involved. The Regional Center is the hub in the process, coordinating with a diverse group of project stakeholders and protecting the EB-5 investors’ interest. Important items to consider with the Regional Center:

a. Experience – How many I-526 and I-829 approvals and denials have been issued to the Regional Center? How many projects have been successfully funded? Does the Regional Center personnel have experience in development and operations?
b. Staff – Is the Regional Center adequately staffed to administer the complexities of the EB-5 process?
c. Accessibility – Due to the significant time zone differences between Asia and the US, contacting the staff in a US office can be difficult. Does the Regional Center have a presence in your home country?
d. Commitment – Is the Regional Center focused on EB-5 as a long-term business or are they looking at EB-5 as a method to fund a single deal?
e. Reporting – Has the Regional Center filed their annual I-924A with the USCIS? And has the Regional Center filed any Form D with the SEC under the securities laws?

*Note – not all Regional Centers are the same – there are 4 general types of Regional Center business models:
a. Self-Funding Regional Centers – The Regional Center funds projects that are owned by principals of the Regional Center.
b. Financial Service Regional Center – The Regional Center funds 3rd party projects.
c. Rent-A-Center – The Regional Center enters into sponsorship agreements to allow other parties to utilize their Regional Center Designation.
d. Hybrid Regional Center – a combination of the above models.

3. Project Offering Team – The Regional Center and Project Sponsor works with a team of service providers to build the Project Offering Package. The Project Offering Package will be submitted to the USCIS with each EB-5 Investor I-526 application to establish eligibility in accordance with the rules of the EB-5 Regional Center Program.

a. Immigration Attorney – Investment-based immigration is a unique section of immigration law. It is important that both the investor’s immigration attorney and the immigration attorney representing the project have experience with EB-5 applications.
b. Securities Attorney – An EB-5 offering is a distinct blend of immigration and securities law. It is important that the securities attorney drafting the project documentation has a strong practical understanding of the complexities of the EB-5 Program so as to draft documents that EB-5 Compliant (Regulations, Statutes, Case Law and Guidance Memorandums).
c. Economist – Job creation is one of the primary requirements to secure approvals throughout the EB-5 application process. The Economic Analysis, created by the Economist, is a central part of the I-526 application (Forward-looking statements: proving the jobs that will be created) and the inputs to the Economic Analysis must be proven as accurate in the I-829 application (Historical performance: proving the jobs were created). Intimate knowledge of the EB-5 program and recent trends in the adjudication of EB-5 petitions are important factors to consider when evaluating an Economist’s suitability.
d. 3rd Party Reports – Market Studies and Appraisals are standard 3rd Party reports used to substantiate the forward-looking statements included in investor I-526 petitions. The Market Study will validate both the projected development costs and anticipated operating performance through comparisons to industry standard data – these benchmarks serve as critical inputs for the economic analysis and need to be provided by a qualified 3rd party to meet current USCIS adjudication standards.

At the very least a 3rd party market study should:
• Include a survey of the primary competition (location, age of the property, financial performance, vacancy)
• Provide a Supply/Demand Analysis
• Utilize 3rd party data sources to support assumptions
• Evaluate the reasonableness of both the development cost and operating revenue/expenses
• Clearly state the assumptions made and the limiting conditions

The Appraisal is an optional but important document for corroborating the assumptions used for the exit strategy. Project valuation is a complex assessment of many variables in the marketplace and should not be conducted by the Regional Center or General Partner. Appraisers hold a professional license in the US, and the MAI designation ensures accountability to the highest professional standards – these are important items to consider when assessing the legitimacy of an Appraisal.
It is important to check the background and credentials of the 3rd Party Companies completing these reports – are they a reputable national firm? Do they specialize in the project industry type? Did the project sponsor commission the report? When was the report completed? How many similar reports has the company completed? What verifiable data sources were used in the report to substantiate the claims made?
The qualified 3rd Party CompaniesAs an example, in the hotel industry, PKF and HVS are leaders in providing market studies and appraisals. These firms specialize in the hotel industry, are likely to have long-standing reputations for high-quality and objective studies, and have internal review processes to protect against favorable manipulation of the reports.
As a prospective investor or investment advisor it would be prudent to reach out to the author of the 3rd party reports and confirm that they in fact completed the report on the date listed.

PLACE

The location of an EB-5 project is critical in determining the potential success or failure of the project operations and eventual return of investor capital (exit strategy). Factors to consider when vetting the project location vary from industry to industry. A good location to build a 5-star hotel will be very different from a prime location for an industrial manufacturing plant or solar farm.

The majority of Regional Center projects are located in Targeted Employment Areas (TEA) that are either a) Rural or B) have 150% of the national unemployment rate. Most investors choose to invest in projects located in TEAs to benefit from the lower investment amount of $500,000 as opposed to the $1,000,000 minimum investment for projects located in non Targeted Employment Areas. A project can demonstrate TEA eligibility in two ways - by providing a letter from the state designated government body (this may vary from state to state) approved by the governor’s office to designate TEA’s; or providing the most up to date data from the US Census Bureau to the USCIS with the investor I-526 petition. The USCIS has stated that they will provide deference to State Designations of TEAs, and as such, the State designation effectively provides a “pre-approval” of a TEA creating greater certainty for the investor and their advisor. Note that TEAs are only valid for one year from the date of issue, so the TEA Letter must be issued within one year of the filing of the investor’s I-526 petition. If the TEA Letter provided by the Regional Center is close to expiring, ask the Regional Center if they have plans to secure an updated TEA letter prior to the filing of future I-526 petitions with USCIS.

Another way to evaluate the quality of a given project’s location is to familiarize yourself (as your investors’ proxy) with the 3rd party market study commissioned on the project. High quality EB-5 projects utilize 3rd party market studies to validate and support the claims made in the business plan and economic analysis. Professional market studies have robust information on the project location and how it relates to the project industry all the way from the National and State levels down to the local community level – giving EB-5 investors a clear picture of market demand and industry trends. Areas of high demand, low supply, and/or high growth represent ideal locations for a successful EB-5 project.

TIME

EB-5, with its many stakeholders and interrelated processes, requires careful planning and execution to deliver the intended results within the timeline stated. Due to the rather short window (5 years) of the EB-5 process, market swings can dramatically affect outcomes. Industry, local, and national trends are of critical importance to the project’s ability to create the jobs and provide timely return of capital.

3rd party Market Studies provide in-depth market research on competitive properties as well as national and local trends that may impact the project. A project can be masterfully put together and have an experienced team but if it does not have the right market timing, it could dramatically underperform in the short term and have disappointing results for EB-5 investors.

Conclusion

First and foremost, experience is required to successfully navigate the deep waters of EB-5. The Regional Center and/or General Partner is the “manager” of the team and is responsible for selecting and managing immigration experts, securities professionals, project sponsors and economic specialists. Without an experienced and professional “manager” the project is at-risk of not achieving the stated objectives.

Reliable 3rd party reports from reputable service providers with industry and market experience are important elements of a project offering package that are used to validate the reasonableness of the assumptions and projections used in the I-526 application. Both the appraisal and market study are important documents when performing due diligence on the project and confirming the strength of the project location and market timing.

Remember - the right PEOPLE, the right PLACE, and the right TIME are key ingredients for the success of any business venture. Focus your due diligence in these areas to increase your likelihood of guiding your investors through a successful investment and immigration process.



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