EB5 Investors Magazine: Can we start with some introductory information about your agency? Where is it located and how many offices do you have?
Thomas: For 10 years I was CEO of a prominent migration agency in Hong Kong, with several branches in China and in Hong Kong. I have recently transitioned to another company [where] we work with many investor immigration programs, including the Hong Kong investment program, the Macau investment program, and of course, the American EB-5 program. We have been doing this for several years. We are exploring other markets, which include Europe, buying property in countries like Portugal, Spain, and Cyprus. And we are also doing some passport programs in the Caribbean, like St. Kitts and Nevis. I’ve been in the immigration sector for more than 20 years. First, I was involved in the Canada program – the nurse and skillful workers program – this was for independent cases and family cases, and then later they changed to the investment program: buying Canadian funds for $400,000. Since 1995 and onward, China has been changing: people have been getting richer, and as they do they get the idea to emmigrate to some other country. From the mid 1990s – from 1995 onward – there have been more and more rich people in China. They intend for their children to gain a much better educational background, and some businessmen try to explore the business markets, building international stepping-stones or relocating to some other country. So when we’re talking about investment programs, and why most of them come from China, that’s the reason: they get rich; they try to get to a country with a good educational system; they want to create security, good benefits, and human rights.
EB5 Investors Magazine: How much EB-5 business do you do? What percentage of your immigration clients are EB-5?
Thomas: We are not doing as much as we were for several years. We started doing EB-5 around 2008, because EB-5 involves a money investment, and during the last 10 years people have been getting rich. They know the worth of the program is to be able to send their children to the States to receive a better educational background, and they don’t have to pay the international school tuition fee. That’s the point: they save a lot of money.
EB5 Investors Magazine: Do you have a lot of clients come to you who are interested in EB-5?
Thomas: I cannot say that it is a lot – I would say moderate numbers. The reason is because in the last two to three years a lot of programs have launched into the market. Actually, this is a very competitive market. People like to make this decision very seriously. What we do is try to look over the main points of the programs, and try to minimize the risks for people, because, you know, we are acting as the immigration consulting firm. We have to market to the people. We do not want to have trouble when the program has something wrong, like the Chicago project, for instance, which involved a lot of immigration agents, and a lot of problems.
EB5 Investors Magazine: So we would imagine that you are very careful about which projects you pick. How do you like for a project to approach you and present their project, and what do you look for?
Thomas: I personally focus on the size of the project. I do not want it to be too big. The number of investors needs to be within 50-80 vacancies, so the time to gather all of the investment funds is much shorter. And the project will be involved in the – you know the Chinese people, right? They like to buy properties. So if the project is related to a hotel property or a residential property, they will prefer that.
EB5 Investors Magazine: So do you have someone look at the project on your side to make sure the financing is safe and secure?
Thomas: Yes. We base the decision on third-party opinions and the background of the [project] organizers to make sure the money will be back within about six to seven years.
EB5 Investors Magazine: Is there any type of project that you particularly dislike or that you would not want your investors to be a part of?
Thomas: Nowadays, some people are referring to purchasing stocks, and they prefer stocks. That is not secure in terms of an EB-5 investment.
EB5 Investors Magazine: How many EB-5 investors have you helped to immigrate to the United States?
Thomas: I cannot tell you exact numbers, but it would be a considerable number.
EB5 Investors Magazine: Do any of your clients come to you with a desire to immigrate, but choose other countries? Where does the United States rank in their interests?
Thomas: There is a huge range in our company – half and half. U.S. investors represent half from our company on a regular basis, and the other half would be those who choose Europe or some other country.
EB5 Investors Magazine: What sets your migration agency apart in regards to immigration in general and EB-5 specifically?
Thomas: We are a fully subsidiary company and we have a very good reputation in the market, so everybody tries to find us as an agent. They trust us, knowing that our company will not cross them, and will be fully responsible for the client if something happens in the future. Of course, we have a good team of people working in the organization. There is a lot of long-term service for the client, because we have to look over the file for maybe six to seven years after they reach permanent residency status.
EB5 Investors Magazine: Concerning EB-5, and how you try to minimize risk, what do you think of the proposed legislative changes? What impact do you think that has on clients?
Thomas: It’s hard to tell. I don’t know what will happen after December 11th. Maybe the investment will be raised or some rules will be changed. Looking back to two to three months ago, people tried to get on the last train as soon as possible, but after September 30th, they were kind of waiting. They just wanted to see what happened, and make sure – they were waiting until after December.
EB5 Investors Magazine: How do you think it will affect the reputation of the EB-5 program for your clients if a legislative decision continues to be pushed back?
Thomas: Let’s go back to the history. Every country that issues or opens an immigration policy for a certain period, they will keep close watch and make a change, and perhaps a policy that is a little too harsh will be passed. That is the regular situation. Just like Canada. Nobody was forcing anyone. Then the government just cut all the applications.
EB5 Investors Magazine: Do you think that the interest will still be high for EB-5?
Thomas: If they intended to immigrate to the States, they still want to go, no matter if the policy will be changed or if the investment will be increased. They will think about – they are concerned about - their children first. This is their first priority: they think about their children. People go to the States all the time. They can’t work in China, so they will lose a lot of money. The priority is simply put on the children. If they have a great shot, they do not care about losing money. If they think they cannot go to the States, then they think maybe I can go to Australia, or maybe I can go to Canada later on. ★