Fast-tracked family visas can mean commercial investment
By Marilyn Bowden
Federal incentives and the relative stability of the US economy continue to attract foreign investment to South Florida, experts say.
The federal EB-5 program, or the immigrant-investor visa, is "one of the best immigration programs to create jobs and bring foreign investment into the US," said Roger Bernstein, principal of North Miami-based Bernstein Osberg-Braun & de Moraes Immigration Attorneys. The program fast-tracks visas for the families of investors who put a minimum of $1 million into a new commercial enterprise and create 10 jobs over a two-year period, he said. If the enterprise is in a Targeted Enterprise Area, the minimum investment required drops to $500,000.
An alternative to direct investment is the Regional Center Pilot Program, Mr. Bernstein said, which requires the investment of $500,000 in a high unemployment area or rural area that results in the indirect creation of 10 new jobs.
"We have already had a great number of approvals for the Regional Center option," he said.
Fernando Socol, a partner with Adorno & Yoss, said several clients are looking for opportunities, including one from China with $700 million to invest in the US — possibly in South Florida.
"President Obama's stimulus package includes $2 billion to develop lithium-ion batteries for electric cars," he said. "China and Taiwan are leaders in that field, and so this will require bringing in high-tech people on H1B visas." The H1B visa is a non-immigrant work visa.
In addition, Mr. Socol said, investors from Europe and Latin America want to buy businesses and real estate in South Florida.
For example, he said, a Portuguese energy company is building a transformer in Georgia that is creating 200 local jobs.
"People think immigration takes jobs away," he said, "but in fact it creates more wealth than it takes away."
"People with money are shopping for a good deal," said Harold "Ed" Patricoff, an international attorney who chairs the International Dispute Resolution Practice Group at Shutts & Bowen. "It sounds bizarre, but in a lot of markets the dollar has gained strength. The UK pound and the Colombian peso have lost a tremendous amount against the dollar.
"There is a lot of capital flowing into the US, which drives the price of dollars up. And I think there is still a belief that there's safety in the US market that there may not be elsewhere."
Mr. Patricoff was recently involved in a deal that brought a $30 million investment from a Dubai-based private equity firm to Jacksonville's APR Energy Cayman, and he said there are also foreign-based funds scouting deals locally.
"We had a large Spanish company looking to do an acquisition merger with a local group," he said. "Several investors from Mexico are looking at hotel and restaurant opportunities — some bank-owned, others developer-owned. They buy the notes from the bank and then foreclose on the developers."
Some European hedge funds are buying up real estate projects for 30 to 40 cents on the dollar, Mr. Patricoff said.
"Really good deals are getting snapped up. So far we have not seen a lot of transactions, but I know a lot of people from Mexico, Spain, Colombia and Venezuela right now looking in South Florida. They are kicking the tires, poking around for good buys."