Miami wants investment center status


South Florida Business Journal by Ashley D. Torres, Reporter
Date: Friday, April 27, 2012, 6:00am EDT 

The city of Miami is seeking federal approval to offer foreign investors an additional option within the increasingly popular federal Immigrant Investor Program.

The program, also known as an EB-5 visa, begins a road to citizenship for foreign investors, who can receive a green card by creating 10 U.S. jobs.

Currently, investors must apply for an EB-5 visa as an individual creating a new company or new project through either a $1 million investment anywhere or a minimum $500,000 investment in a targeted employment area. If the investor meets all requirements after two years, he or she can apply for U.S. citizenship in an additional five years.

However, the city of Miami is seeking to provide investors with an additional option by applying to become an EB-5 regional center, a geographic area designated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Mayor Tomás Regalado said. This would benefit the city, as it would attract more investment and jobs, while investors would benefit from not having to run the business or project themselves.

Investment in an EB-5 regional center requires the same monetary amount as an individual investment, but does not require that the investor have an active role in the project or that the 10 U.S. jobs created be direct, said Deirdre Nero, an immigration attorney with Nero Immigration Law P.L.

“It’s a good way to create capital for projects from foreign investors and, really, this category, when conceived, was a way to create employment in the U.S.,” she said.

Those investing in a regional center must still file an individual case with USCIS and after two years prove that the money was not pulled and that the project did not collapse.

As the EB-5 program has become more mature, regional centers, such as the city of Dallas, have established a record of success and attracted increasing amounts of investment.

“It’s definitely growing, but the investors need to be careful when choosing the regional center, because they need to make sure the project is solid,” Nero said.

The application process for a regional center designation takes about six months, and Miami is awaiting approval, Regalado said.

Congress enacted the EB-5 visa program in 1992 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment.

Nationwide, there are 218 EB-5 regional centers. Twenty of those are in Florida, with some including areas of South Florida, according to USCIS.

However, just because a regional center is approved does not mean that additional steps have been taken to make it active, Nero said.

During a recent trade mission to Lima, Peru, of which Miami is a sister city, Regalado, Latin Builders Association members and other Miami-Dade County business leaders met with their Peruvian counterparts to discuss opportunities for trade and collaboration.

“It’s great that a lot of companies and people are interested in what we do and investing here,” said Bernie Navarro, president of the Latin Builders Association, which organized the trade mission.

Adding to the interest in EB-5 visas is that many Latin American countries are not eligible for non-immigrant investment visas, such as Peru, Brazil and Venezuela.

“If we can create 50 jobs in Miami as a result of the trip, I would say that the trip was a success,” Regalado said.

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