Visa deal funding realty, investors get homeland
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
At a time international investors are drawn to Miami's real estate bargains, the government's EB-5 visa program is an attractive vehicle for them to invest here in exchange for US residency.
Exclusive Visas, an EB-5 consulting firm based in Weston, is advising developers of several projects that would boost the local economy and create jobs while offering participating investors permanent residency for them and their families.
These projects include the University of Miami's Life Science and Technology Park, rising in Miami's health district, and the planned construction of 50 Sonic fast-food restaurants throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Fred Burgess, president of Exclusive Visas, has been a practicing attorney for 20 years and got involved in the EB-5 program in 2007.
His firm advises clients on how to apply for a regional center and demonstrate the creation of a certain number of jobs to get the federal government to approve the projects.
The EB-5 visa program was created by the government to provide employment-based visas. The government basically requires a foreign national to invest $500,000 to $1 million into a venture that would create 10 sustainable jobs and in exchange, receive a green card.
If the project is in a geographic area of high unemployment, the investor is only required to put in $500,000.
Basically, Mr. Burgess said, "we need to make sure their funds come from credible sources and that they don't have a criminal background."
One project Mr. Burgess has been working on is UM's Life Science and Technology Park.
Under the EB-5 program, developer Wexford Miami is raising $20 million capital from 40 participating investors.
"They are close to selling off," he said. "That EB-5 project will be filled by the end of this year."
He is also advising Miami-based QueensFort Capital Corp., which bought exclusive development rights to build 50 Sonic restaurants in Miami-Dade and Broward in the next four years.
The development firm is acquiring the land where it plans to build the restaurants at discounted prices, which benefits the investors involved. It is seeking six to eight investors per package of two to four restaurants.
Carolina Oliva, QueensFort Capital's senior vice president, said right now most interest in the Sonic project is coming from China, Latin America — particularly Venezuela and Mexico — and the Middle East.
Mr. Burgess and his team travel globally with clients to market their projects, making frequent trips to countries such as China, Korea and Venezuela.
"We travel throughout the world regularly, so we know what the market is looking for and we can advise companies raising capital how to structure their project so it's attractive to the investor," he explained.
Some internationals are drawn to invest in these ventures because they want to come to the US for social, political and even climate reasons.
"We have a big push from Mexico and Venezuela for safety and political reasons," respectively, he said.
More than half of EB-5 visas come from China and Korea, Mr. Burgess noted, adding that when the program first took off it became popular in the United Kingdom.
Although this government-backed visa program has been in place since the 1990s, he said, it got little use until the regional center model was added in 2003.
But the model kept sunsetting every six months, until in October 2009 President Obama extended it three years with a push to make it permanent.
Today, he said, more than 120 projects nationwide are participating under the regional center model.