by Samantha C. Vélez
Relocating to the United States, uprooting your family and your entire life, is no simple task. As an immigration attorney and an EB-5 investor himself, Anthony Korda lends a unique perspective on the entire process. This article discusses his personal journey, as well as that of other investors, and his experience navigating the legal waters and the emotional trials of the EB-5 visa program.
Anthony immigrated to the United States five years ago, bringing his wife and two children, in order to reboot his career as an attorney. Prior to making the move, his family spent five years simply considering different visa options and eventually decided on the Immigrant Investor Program.
Anthony admits that they were originally doubtful of the EB-5 program: “I will be honest, initially I was suspicious. It looked to me like it was too good to be true, but after doing some research and meeting Bill Stenger and other people who were involved in EB-5 projects, we decided it was a genuine program and an ideal way for us to come to the United States.”
He and his family actually stumbled upon the program in an interesting fashion. The Kordas were staying in their vacation home in Naples, Fla. when they met a marketing representative for Jay Peak Ski Resort, and as Anthony says, “The coincidence seemed too good to ignore.”
Anthony was referred to Bill Stenger, President of Jay Peak, and eventually decided to invest in The Vermont Regional Center. Bill fondly remembers meeting Anthony: “[He] was like so many of our investor families who are interested in our facilities and their quality. After visiting and seeing the quality of our plan and products, [he] joined the program. It has been wonderful working with such a great group of families.”
“Having met Bill Stenger, and having seen his vision and what he was going to do with the ski resort, and the fact that we liked the idea of investing in a ski resort, we chose to invest in that particular project.
"It really was a leap of faith for us because I think we were the first or the second investor in Jay Peak, and at that time there were very few people who had successfully filed for any Regional Center project.”
Afterwards, Anthony, who previously specialized in civil and criminal litigation, opened his own immigration law firm in Naples, Fla., Korda Zitt and Associates, with additional offices in Hollywood, Fla. and Beverly Hills, Calif. Looking back, Anthony says, “I think it was meant to be and I hope, in handling other EB-5 cases, we are able to give something back.”
At EB5 Investors Magazine, we would like to unravel EB-5 from the viewpoint of the investor by exploring the reasons they choose to leave their home countries, their experience with the application process and their attitudes towards the program.
Reasons for Immigrating and Choosing the EB-5 Visa
For many immigrant investors, the EB-5 Program is the sole option for obtaining a green card and gaining access to permanent residency in the United States. Anthony’s family vacationed in the States and was attracted to the “American way of life.” He says his family “liked American people, and we liked what this country could offer us. For us, speaking English was handy. [It] seemed to be a good fit.”
For other investors who have participated in the EB-5 Program like Shelley, the United States provides a venue for business-growth and success. Shelley’s husband was managing an advertising company and wanted to expand it into the United States: “The potential was there. When he took the leap to do it, I went with him. We started off in New York and stormed the whole North-East. The business [eventually] went global.”
Shelley’s husband secured an EB-2 visa, a professional visa granting conditional residency to foreign nationals with an exceptional ability, and they started a family in the United States with their two children. Meanwhile, her husband expanded the business; he ran a promotional advertising company with a door-to-door sales force selling certificates for customers going to sports games, golf courses, restaurants, fun parks, etc. As she says, “It was a good business for us, and we just kept building up teams of people and opening up new cities, and it turned out to be something very fruitful in our lives.”
“We went through three cycles of EB-2 visas, which are five year renewables, and by the time we got to the end of our third EB-2, we were firmly planted in the United States with our business. We had two American-born children, and business was doing well. We were not prepared to go back to Canada. We made the United States our home.”
Steven is another EB-5 investor; he received the news of his I-829 approval this year. Originally from Canada and the owner of a high-tech marketing film in Silicon Valley, Steven began his life in the States on an H-1B visa: “I quickly realized the opportunity in America was much greater than that of Canada. So I picked up and moved to San Jose, Calif. and obtained my Master of Business Administration here.” For Anthony, the H-1B visa did not seem like a viable option because it posed “numerical limits, delays and was overall less preferable” in his situation.
Moving a Life and Family
Simply put, Anthony, Shelley and Steven liked living in the United States and wanted to stay. Anthony was interested in transferring his life to America and Shelley and Steven had already been in the country for numerous years, raising their families and expanding their businesses. While they were putting their time and money into a foreign country they hoped to make a lasting home, getting their new lives legally squared away presented difficulties.
Moving a life to another country is challenging to coordinate. As Anthony says, “You do not know how long it is going to take. If you have kids at school and you want to start them at a new school; if you have a job and you want to know when to finish; if you are selling a house, buying a house, or renting premises; all of those things require firm dates, and that is one thing people cannot necessarily have in the EB-5 Program or any other visa process. You literally do not know if you are going to get your visa until you get your visa.”
Unfortunately, for Shelley, that meant being grounded in the United States; she was unable to travel back to Canada for 18 months and missed critical family events, such as her sister-in-law’s wedding and the funeral of her childhood best friend’s father. Staying away from her extended family was not an easy task, but she and her husband were committed to obtaining their green cards.
In Steven’s situation, he explains, “All we wanted was for our life to continue the way it was.” Like Shelley, he was not prepared to pick up his family and go back to Canada.
The Uncertainty of the Waiting Game
While all three of these investors experienced smooth application processes, they all said the hardest aspect was the waiting time and the uncertainty surrounding their visa approvals. In Shelley’s case, her family stayed in the United States for over 15 years before being granted green cards. All that these investors could do to fill the time was to lie in wait until they heard back from their lawyers.
According to Steven, waiting to hear back about his I-829 was “unsettling” and his family did not know what to expect: “Because we are dealing with government agencies, there is no specific timeframe. We can talk about average time that we have seen in the past but it ranges from individual to individual. That is the biggest part: the waiting game. Obviously, the ruling changes all the time. You never know where you are in the process or which side of the coin you are on at any given time.”
Shelley experienced similar feelings of anxiety: “It was frustrating because you do not know if you will end up having to go back to Canada when you are firmly planted here. We were always sitting on the edge whenever our visas were up for renewal and we did not know if immigration was going to accept the visas, but we had good lawyers behind us.”
Steven: “The best analogy I can give right now is I was walking through a cross street and I was hand-held by [my attorney] and his team: Walk here, navigate there and make sure you do not step in front of a bus. I did not know where to walk to.”
For Steven, the procedural process was overwhelming at first because, three years ago when he began looking at EB-5, there was little available information about the program. As a technology-minded person, he attempted to find what information he could on the Internet: “Doing research on the Internet was pretty useless at that time. There was not much information and there was not a detailed process outlined anywhere.” It is incredible how much more information is readily available to potential investors today. Of course, this is also due to the increased popularity of the program and the ever growing number of approved Regional Centers.
Anthony’s experience allows him to shed light on common hurdles within both sides of the process: “When I started practice in the EB-5 arena it was still running pretty well, and generally speaking, I-526 petitions were being approved in about 90 days, fairly regularly like clockwork. You could say to a client that within six months, start to finish, they would probably have their green card. The difficulty now, no doubt because it is a popular program and because of some of the issues that have arisen in the EB-5 Program with USCIS and their adjudication policy, is that it is taking a lot longer now. I think investors have to be sanguine about the fact that from start to finish it can take as much as a year before they can get their green cards.”
Today, it is apparent that the most difficult part of the application process is providing evidence of the lawful source of funds. As an attorney, Anthony relates that, “It ends up being much more complicated than people recognize. USCIS clearly wants to ensure that only honest legal money is being invested in the EB-5 Program. They do not want this to be a vehicle for money laundering and I approve of that wholeheartedly.”
Proving the lawful source of funds can create headache or work for those who have complicated financial or tax arrangements, especially because of the differences in tax law from country to country. It “can be quite difficult to unscramble that and prove to the satisfaction of USCIS that the funds themselves are lawfully sourced,” says Anthony.
Advice for Other Investors
With these procedural hurdles and waiting issues in mind, we have asked these investors to offer words of advice to others considering participation in the program. In general, the three investors experienced smooth application processes, most likely because they had good attorneys. We were also impressed by their dedication and positive attitudes. When prompted for advice for other potential investors looking to participate in the program, each had this to say:
Steven: “Many people going through this process, I am pretty sure, did not plan for this in their lives. It is a slight deviation from the regular life plan. It requires time, money and the commitment of family members. It takes more than that individual [investor’s] commitment to make it happen. Their family needs to be in full support of this. They also need to invest the proper time, energy and resources to make it successfully happen.”
Shelley: “If they have a plan and the desire to be in the United States and they have something to offer the people and to give to the community to help it grow, they can jump in with two feet. You can go to a place of frustration and you can talk your way out of it (deciding which way you want go) or you can keep looking forward and have the faith that everything is going to work out.”
Anthony: “I think it is very important they do their research and see what projects are out there; to make sure the project they choose is both one that interests them and has a chance for success, because if the project fails, of course, the program is quite brutal. Their green card can be taken away from them and the investor and his or her family will have to return to their home country.
It is also important to do research about the professionals that they work with. Just because you are investing in the EB-5 Program does not mean you leave your common sense at home. You should be looking at this as indeed any other investment.”
Optimism and Faith in the American Way of Life
All in all, the biggest common factor between these investors is their outlook on American life and their faith in the opportunities available in the United States. The fact that these people place so much value on beginning their new lives and becoming new citizens in a foreign country speaks volumes. In each case, they received their I-829 approvals and the EB-5 process was successful.
These immigrants have a very positive attitude towards living in America and want to take part in it as best they can. For many, life in the United States is synonymous with providing themselves with a promising future for their careers and their families.
Welcoming these investors into the country also creates promise for the U.S. economy as a whole and a new family entering the country stimulates local economy as well.
It is for this very reason that immigration lawyer Martin Lawler, of Lawler & Lawler in San Francisco, believes the EB-5 Program is a good one. In his experience, when immigrant investors receive their I-829 approval and continue their lives here, they continue to inject money into our economy, beyond the half a million dollars they invested to obtain their visas: “I have one I-829 case with a software businessman with six offices across the country. The first thing investors do is buy a house [usually a high-end home], they buy cars, they send their children to private schools and they start another business.”
Regardless, many investors understand that the $500,000 is not just a business investment. Anthony believes that, “at the end of the day, I think most people recognize when they get involved with an EB-5 project that what you are doing is investing in your future; you are investing in the future of your family.”
Anthony: “America still celebrates success and I like that approach. You are encouraged to do well, to push yourself to the best of your ability, to excel at sport and at business; people are not ashamed of that success. People celebrate success and they are happy for you when you are successful.”
Through these interviews we have received an in-depth look at the EB-5 Program from the perspective of the foreign investor. Overall, the program is a great opportunity for immigrants looking for options to gain a green card and permanent residence. While there are challenges and hurdles to overcome, the EB-5 Program continues to grow as more and more investors show interest. We hope that they glean insight from investors like Anthony, Shelley and Steven who have undergone the process first-hand.
Editor’s Note: Any references to the Jay Peak Resort and its developers in this article predate allegations of misuse of EB-5 funding, which emerged in April 2016. All potential investors and members of the EB-5 program community are urged to complete extensive due diligence when choosing a regional center or partner in the EB-5 process.