By Aaron Muller and Simon Butler, Mona Shah & Associates Global
EB-5 practitioners left this year’s EB-5 and Global Immigration Expo in Miami, organized by EB-5 Investors Magazine, with new insights and connections, along with a better understanding of the sector. But although this was not the first trade-show rodeo for most attendees, some insiders are wondering—given the Expo’s benchmark-worthy success—if it is worth attending other U.S.-based events that may not, at first glance, offer the same ROI.
One bit of food for thought is that Expo attendance was lower than 2022’s, and prices have stayed the same. As such, some attendees wondered whether U.S. events such as the Expo would still play a crucial part in EB-5ers’ professional lives … or whether they are worth attending at all.
This year, as in the past, the Expo served as a snapshot for the state of the industry. Among the noticeably diminished crowds that circulated at the Hilton Miami Airport Blue Lagoon for the January 12-13 event were some new faces, some old, and some that have been absent for several years—including a number of professionals from the world of private equity. That is a good sign for the EB-5 contingent, and the moderated panels sure seemed to be filled to the brim with folks awaiting the Expo’s revelations.
The value of amassing so many industry professionals under one roof is undisputed. Indeed, given the complexity of the EB-5 program (along with recent developments relating to confusion over USCIS requirements about fees and other issues), it can be argued that these domestic conferences are critical.
Does that mean EB-5ers who do not attend such events are missing out?
We say yes. Other than providing education (and the folks who really understand the nuances in EB-5 are becoming scarce!), these U.S.-based events aim to attract local EB-5 investors. Such individuals include potential investors on non-immigrant visas, such as students, H-1B workers, and L-1 and E-2 visa holders. To accommodate such proverbial low-hanging fruit, the entities holding these events have become creative with regard to their strategies. For example: ILW, the online immigration-law publisher, regularly traverses the country while leading domestic conferences that exhibit projects and educate both investors and industry practitioners.
Then there are the events tangential to the EB-5 sector that also warrant scrutiny in terms of their value to the industry. These include real estate expos, such as the NYC Real Estate Expo, which are often well attended but have traditionally yielded less by way of EB-5 business than conferences geared toward that or the Citizenship by Investment (“CBI”)/Golden Visa programs. On the other hand, real estate conferences overseas in locales such as Dubai often cultivate potential developers and other professionals seeking involvement in EB-5 projects. If the real estate and other events hovering on the cusp of the EB-5 space in America could replicate such successful prospecting, EB-5 practitioners might deem them more worthy of attending.
That is not such a tall order, given the recent transformations in the EB-5 space. For one, the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act (“RIA”) certainly adds to the attraction of targeting domestic investors through concurrent filing. Certain investors submitting an initial petition can now concurrently file for adjustment of status (i.e., the I-485 application), enabling investors living in the United States to get the lion’s share of their Green Card benefits within only a few months of financing their projects. The caveat to this popular change is that the investor must be lawfully in the U.S. and QUALIFIED to file.
Where does that take the industry? Well, that remains to be seen. According to ILW, Indian H-1Bs in the United States comprise the single largest piece of the 2022 EB-5 global market. That invaluable factoid may be one of the reasons why ILW has conducted 175-plus in-person EB-5 events in more than 30 cities throughout America.
Clearly, there is a sizable opening for curation here. Can EB-5ers take up the mantle?
For EB-5 practitioners, these domestic events give local developers and agents a chance to converse with the professionals (see photo below of Mona Shah & Associates Global Partner Rebecca S. Singh, Esq., at the firm’s booth). Yet concerns are still top of mind. High costs and long travel times are a deterrent to some, and while attendance drops at events such as the Miami Expo are hardly disastrous, such phenomena may give pause to those seeking a bigger audience and larger booth traffic for the money.
Enter the Recession
Another issue relating to the events space is the economy. Amid the cautious optimism surrounding predictions of a recession—a traditionally robust period for the EB-5 sector that some practitioners say is already upon us—there has been a marked increase in the number of projects vying for EB-5 capital. Economists’ predictions show that the U.S. has a staggering 70% chance of entering a recession this year, something that many have feared even since before the Covid-19 pandemic plunged the economy into chaos. That makes for a grim forecast, but EB-5ers have viable options even in this volatile environment.
Some of these options relate to transformations provided by the recently passed EB-5 Reform & Integrity Act (“RIA”). Changes under this legislation have allowed investors from backlogged countries, such as China, to return to the market, with the law now allowing a percentage of visas to be allocated to certain defined areas. For investors from backlogged countries, this is significant, as it allows them to jump to the front of the line. Per the RIA: 20% of visas will be allocated for investments in rural areas (equaling approximately 2,000 visas); 10% will be allocated for investments in areas designated by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as high-unemployment areas (comprising approximately 1,000 visas); 2% will be allocated for investment into infrastructure projects (composed of approximately 200 visas); and unused visas from the reserved categories in any given year will carry over to the following year.
So even though EB-5ers are still reluctant to market their projects within China, given the Covid-19 situation, U.S. events can offer a significant opportunity to meet with agents. In light of that, there is a window here that should not be missed in the current business climate. The reopening of the China market demonstrates that there is no better time than now to dive into investing in job creation via EB-5.
That means there is a chance to make things right in America by generating much-needed jobs via EB-5 projects. And if practitioners want to get the best out of this process, they might want to consider attending domestic events … even if it requires a little patience before these activities bear fruit.
Still Winning After All These Years
There is one more attraction for EB-5ers that U.S. events in the industry often showcase: awards. These honors, attended by top professionals in the area, could benefit both prospective investors and practitioners by giving them the chance to network (and potentially sign on) with renowned attorneys and other subject-matter experts.
Nowhere is this as evident as it was at the Expo, which would not be the Expo without MSA Global’s own Managing Partner, Mona Shah, Esq., taking home some serious hardware.
This year, for the ninth time in a row, Shah was awarded the prestigious Top 25 EB-5 Award, an act of recognition that further secures her place at the forefront of the industry.
Further proof that domestic events offer something for every practitioner … especially if one is not expecting anything at all.
With contributions from Mona Shah, Esq., and Rebecca S. Singh, Esq.
About the Authors:
Aaron J. Muller is a writing assistant at Mona Shah & Associates Global, where he contributes to blogs, article, and business plans. He holds a B.A. in English from SUNY New Paltz, where he was awarded the Tomaselli Award for Creative Nonfiction in 2019. He also has an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College. His work has been published in multiple print and online literary journals.
Simon Butler is a writing assistant at Mona Shah & Associates Global, where he works on business plans, blog articles and other content. During his 20-plus-year career, he has served in a variety of roles (mostly in the publishing arena), including as features editor at On Wall Street magazine and senior editor at Zagat. Simon has interviewed personalities such as chef David Bouley, director Whit Stillman, and singer-songwriter Carly Simon, as well as executives such as Mary Schapiro, former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. A graduate of Columbia College with a B.A. in English from Columbia University in New York, Simon also has written opinion pieces for publications ranging from Kyiv Post to Algemeiner. He lives in New York City.
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