JTHS Council of the MIAMI Association of REALTORS - Jupiter, Tequesta, Hope Sound



Popular Visa Program Helps Finance Major Miami Projects, Create Jobs

by | Oct 21, 2015

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A popular federal visa program used by Miami developers to finance major projects is helping South Florida developers tap into the China market, create jobs, facilitate more local affordable housing, and help pay for projects that may have not been developed.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which was recently extended by the federal government to Dec. 11 as changes to the program continue to be debated, is administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. EB-5 was established in 1990 to grant permanent residency to a foreign investor and their immediate family members who funds at least $500,000 to $1 million of the construction cost for a project that creates at least 10 domestic jobs.

The program, which wasn't widely used until six years ago when the Department of Homeland Security clarified a rule to allow temporary construction jobs to count toward the job-creation tally, helps developers raise mezzanine loans to fund construction of commercial projects. Mezzanine loans take a collateral interest in the equity of the developer, but are secondary to first mortgages. EB-5-related loans are much cheaper than the double-digit interest rates of private mezzanine loans.

EB-5 Financing Used Nationally
EB-5 money helped fund a Marriott hotel in Los Angeles, the Barclays Center sports and entertainment complex in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is being used to develop the massive Hudson Yards site in Manhattan, in addition to other projects.

In Miami, the $430 million SkyRise Miami tower in downtown Miami has been granted EB-5 status. The tower is seeking 540 foreign investors in the hopes of raising $270 million. Miami Beach's Hotel Astor has also been approved for EB-5 financing, among other projects.

EB-5 Investors Looking to Help Their Families
Ronnie Fieldstone, a Miami attorney who specializes in EB-5 projects, spoke about EB-5 financing at this month's RCA Miami Super Conference hosted by the MIAMI Association of REALTORS® (MIAMI). Fieldstone said most EB-5 investors want to relocate to the U.S. so their children can have a better life and gain better education.

"One third of all foreign students in the United States are from China," Fieldstone said at the RCA Miami Super Conference. "They are by far the largest foreign student population. That's why they are coming here. They first want to educate their children in the U.S."

If they complete their lengthy review and are granted permanent residency, EB-5 migrants pay U.S. income taxes and tend to boost local economies according to studies. A report by the research management firm, Minnesota IMPLAN Group, found EB-5 spending supported 28,000 jobs; contributed $2.2 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP); accounted for $346,790,317 in federal taxes; $218,437,866 in state and local taxes in 2010 to 2011.

Boosting the Economy, Job Creation
The program has provided $11 billion in funding and created 73,000 jobs nationwide since its inception in 1990, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

China Impact
Chinese nationals are the biggest foreign buyers of U.S. real estate in terms of units, dollar volume and price paid, according to a recent report by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). China is also the largest recipient of EB-5 Visas, collecting 85 percent of all issued EB-5 Visas in 2014.

Miami, which has long been a center for Latin American flight capital and investment, would like to secure more investment from the world's most populous country. The EB-5 program is one way to bring more Chinese investment to Miami, Fieldstone said.

Chinese buyers represented 2 percent of all international closed sales in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties in 2014, according to the 2014 Survey of International Home Purchases Conducted by the National Association of Realtors Research for MIAMI Association of REALTORS® (MIAMI). That's a 50 percent increase from 2012 and 2011 when China comprised 1 percent of transactions. Latin America represented 68 percent of South Florida's international clients.

EB-5 Regulation
Annually, the EB-5 Program accounts for less than 1 percent of the visas issued by the U.S. Throughout the process, EB-5 investors are subject to the same background checks and national security screenings as applicants in any other visa category. Their ability to apply for citizenship is subject to the same criteria as other visa holders.

Miami's EB-5 Regional Center
In 2014, the city of Miami received approval to operate as one of the few government-owned and managed EB-5 regional centers in America. Miami's EB-5 Regional Center covers projects in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

There are more than 900 regional centers across the U.S., about 75 in Florida.

The Miami EB-5 Regional Center's first project is the $800 million Panorama Tower project, which is seeking $160 million in EB-5 dollars. In the future, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado wants the city's EB-5 regional center to help finance affordable housing in the tri-county area.

Potential Changes to the EB-5 Program
Congress is expected to make changes to the EB-5 program before December. Proposed changes include increasing the minimum investment from $500,000 and $1 million to $800,000 and $1.2 million, respectively. If approved, these would be the first increases in the program's 25-year history.

Fieldstone is hopeful Miami can attract more EB-5 financing, particularly from the Chinese.

"The Chinese have dramatically affected New York, Seattle, and other cities with billions of dollars of investment," Fieldstone said. "I'm hoping South Florida gets more of that capital."

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