Jeanne Calderon and Gary Friedland at the NYU Stern School of Business have posted What TEA Projects Might Look Like Under EB-5 2.0: Alternatives Illustrated with Maps and Data. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the EB-5 program, the authors provide some background:
Under the EB-5 Program, enacted in 1990, an immigrant who invests at least $500,000 or $1,000,000 in a specific U.S. business project is eligible for permanent residency, if the investment creates at least 10 American jobs.
These invested funds became an inexpensive source of patient, flexible capital for real estate development projects after the Great Recession in 2008. More recently, EB-5 capital has blossomed into a mainstream source of capital for real estate development projects. The immigrants’ pooled equity capital is contributed to an entity (known under the EB-5 law as a “New Commercial Enterprise” or “NCE”) typically created by an affiliated government-approved regional center. The proceeds are most commonly deployed as a mezzanine loan to a real estate project development entity (known under the EB-5 law as a “Job Creating Entity” or “JCE”). The immigrant’s motivation to make the investment is to qualify for the visa, and thus, he accepts interest rates well below market.
The original purpose of the EB-5 law was to create investments and jobs in rural areas, as well as high unemployment areas, referred to as “Targeted Employment Areas” (“TEA”). To encourage investments in these areas, the minimum investment in a project located in a TEA was set at a discounted level of $500,000, compared to $1,000,000 for a project not located in a TEA. Developers strive to have the location of their projects qualify as a TEA because immigrants seeking the EB-5 visa strongly prefer to invest in areas where the lesser minimum investment level applies, especially if they believe the investment will result in their receipt of a visa and a return of their capital investment.
Some members of Congress and other critics had become outraged by the growing trend of projects qualifying as TEAs that are located in thriving urban areas and commanding the lion’s share of EB-5 investment dollars. With the approval delegated to individual states, each of which was authorized to set its own rules and motivated to retain economic development within its own borders, projects in even the most affluent parts of the country were able to routinely qualify for the discounted investment level by combining contiguous census tracts (starting with the project site and often extending in unnatural configurations to remote sites miles away) until the weighted average met or exceeded the high unemployment threshold required by the law. This census tract aggregation is referred to pejoratively as “gerrymandering.” Thus, gerrymandering rendered the two level investment threshold meaningless and immigrants flocked to invest in luxury projects by major developers in urban areas. (4-5)
The authors conclude,
Congress should focus more attention on visa reserves and the types of projects that merit any special visa priority. As explained in the visa reserves section of this paper, immigrant investors are likely to place increasing importance on this issue in the near future as visa waiting periods rise. A project’s qualification for visa reserves might become as important a factor in the immigrant’s investment decision as the TEA status of a particular project. (48)
This type of program rubs many people the wrong way — Green Cards for Sale! — so it is important that is designed and implemented properly. As such, the authors make some valuable suggestions as to what EB-5 2.0 should look like.