By Ali Jahangiri and Courtney Creedon
Mr. Limin Wang runs a large-scale migration agency in China, Well Trend United Inc. Headquartered in Beijing, Well Trend has offices in eleven cities across China, providing immigration and education consultation services for those who are hoping to move abroad. The publisher of the EB5 Investors Magazine, Ali Jahangiri, recently sat down with Mr. Wang for an in-depth interview allowing us to discuss the history and business philosophy of WellTrend as well as the current needs of Chinese people towards global immigration services.
EB5 Investors Magazine: Would you please tell us about the background of your company? How long have you been in business as a migration agency? What makes your company unique?
Mr. Wang: Our company’s name is WellTrend, and it was established in early 1995. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary. Although we are not the largest company of this industry in China, we consider ourselves as the big brother in the industry. I prefer to call myself or WellTrend the "big brother" because this implies more social responsibility and is less corporate sounding.
Naturally, we are proud of our size and history, as I think we have a longer history than most of the agencies you have interviewed. It is not only about history but also about values -- I think corporate values are very important to us as a company. The difference between myself and other companies lies in my way of thinking in regards to immigration. I believe immigration is the link that can bridge the gap between Chinese people and people from other countries.
There is something else I’d like to share with you. Let's take EB-5 for example. Chinese applicants comprise of more than 80 percent of the total applicants. This has a very profound significance in my opinion. But why? It is because of something I heard in a speech given by Former President Bill Clinton about a year and a half ago that I wholeheartedly support. He stated there are two great nationalities in the world, American and Chinese. If we came together and facilitated the exchange of people, projects and ideas between us, the two most prominent global economies could bring peace to this world. This is indeed profoundly significant. Keep in mind these are the two largest economies in the world. I think it’s is amazing. People from different countries will sometimes dislike each other, and this is why there is no mutual understanding between them. If they facilitated exchanges and actually visited other countries, then they could foster friendships. People would become more and more tolerant, and this tolerance greatly furthers our goals. This is my dream, and this explains why I’ve devoted more than twenty years to this industry. I never really tire of it.
I feel now that China has reached this stage, Chinese people must begin learning from other people. The best way to do that is for them to step outside of China. For most Chinese, the primary motivation of going abroad is for the sake of their children's education. I think that through allowing the children to study abroad in the United States not only helps their family, but also helps the children better understand American culture and history. This huge country of the United States and China become more like friends, and this is wonderful for the whole world. I am not sure if other agents feel the same way, if so I haven't heard them proclaim it. However, I really hope more Chinese agents, especially those in charge, can share this dream with me. Money is not our only motivation to work, but also to achieve this goal and this is what separates me from the others. I am hopeful that more Chinese agents will adopt this vision.
EB5 Investors Magazine: Let's talk about choosing projects. What factors into your decision when choosing a project? What suggestions would you give other agents when choosing projects?
Mr. Wang: There are several aspects to consider. First of all, everyone wants to be rich and famous. However, when one reaches a certain age they realize that these desires come with contradictions. For example, if someone wants to become the most influential leader on the immigration market, they are likely to lose control because they end up focusing too much on the size of their company and the amount of immigrant cases handled per year. As I said, don’t allow yourself to become the victim of your success. If you focus all your efforts and energy into just expansion, then quality control issues will be right on your heels. Problems will arise. Therefore, the management of quality and quantity is paramount for every boss and every agent. Many people still think they can do better and achieve more: they can surpass one rival in the next year, and even more in the future. Their dream is to make the company bigger and themselves richer, but in all reality this is an unachievable goal.
I think immigration is a business about people. Our work is to create a better future for people; thus if I make a mistake there will be serious consequences that negatively affect their lives. It is unlikely they will forgive us. However, if from the very start we put the clients’ needs and desires first, make their needs our needs and their desires our desires, then mistakes will only happen when it is inevitable and I believe they will forgive us in that situation. If we are not completely honest with them, or we do things like fabricate false documents or make false promises, they will certainly be angry if and when a problem arises.
I also believe that problems will arise if a company develops too quickly. It will be nearly impossible to keep an eye on all the small matters within a company and they will be unable to effectively manage each employee. Being big is great, but maintaining a good homeostasis within the company is even more important. Therefore even though WellTrend has been established for twenty years and is one of the largest and most influential companies in the industry, we do not claim to be the biggest. It’s just not our policy.
EB5 Investors Magazine: What do you pay attention to when subscribing projects? If you were going to write a guide on subscribing projects, what suggestions would you have?
Mr. Wang: If you really want to succeed in this area, you must understand this is a business about people. That way, you understand that if you purposefully make mistakes, people will get angry at you, and may even take out their anger on you.
Many people know that I do my due diligence for each project. I often come to the United States; in addition I am Canadian and I handle investment immigration projects there. However, the Canadian projects are guaranteed projects (not at risk), so it’s not crucial that I visit and do my due diligence every time. But for the U.S., EB-5 projects are at risk so I must come. Everyone claims that their project is the best, but if you don't go there, see it for yourself, and talk with those involved, problems are certain to arise.
No one can guarantee eternal success. However, due diligence is something you can control. You must work hard; you must personally come to check out the project, get to know the project leaders and their moral values. It’s imperative to open a dialogue with them and exchange opinions.
A lot of factors will be involved because like I said this is a business about the people. Its important not only for the applicants, but it also matters for others as well. When I work with a regional center, I ask myself, who are they? Are they experienced? Do they have a performance record? What is important to them? We need to spend as much time as possible talking with them. Last but not the least; don't try for the highest commission every time. Many agents, especially Chinese agents, are always shooting for the best projects and the highest commissions. Generally, good projects will not offer the best commissions. If people don't understand this, trouble is bound to come sooner or later. I'm not saying that a high commission project is always a red flag, but you must be very cautious. How can you resist the temptation of greed? This is a great challenge and I don't think many people can overcome it. Even though I’ve explained it, for many it will just go through one ear and out the other. But I can tell you, some Chinese agents said their motto was "return is my business, and everything else is the client’s business." I just don’t support this way of thinking.
EB5 Investors Magazine: If you rely on different aspects to judge a project, besides what you have mentioned above, do you have preferences or things you like to avoid? For example, is a hotel project in Los Angeles better than a residential development agreement in New Mexico? Do you have some general guidelines as for the locations or types of projects? Or do you normally go with someone you know?
Mr. Wang: Generally, I am more willing to go in on a project with someone I’ve known for a long time. Someone I trust. In all reality, most projects of this industry are related to real estate, as it can create many jobs. Chinese applicants are fond of real estate, because it’s a tangible venture. However, there is one type we must avoid, and that is mixed use real estate. Two years ago, the USCIS launched the tenant occupancy agreement and we try to avoid that area. WellTrend doesn't deal with mixed use real estate.
In terms of locations, I don't have any special preferences. Don't forget that our customers may not go to live in Los Angeles and they may not go to New York either. So the locations of projects are not very important for me, as long as they are legal.
I must be scrupulous when examining the structure of a project, and understand the percentage of each part. A key element is to see if the developers have a record of success, and have a deep understanding of the people behind the scenes. Naturally, legality is also important. Are all conditions met? In the case of the first lien or the second lien, I prefer to hold the latter one in the business. As I know, some agents deal with the first lien; and some even use 100 percent of EB-5 investment funds. If they’re successful that’s fantastic. But the premise is that there are no issues with raising funds, and that every potential client is agreeable with your ideas.
EB5 Investors Magazine: What proportion do you think the EB-5 should take in the capital structure?
Mr. Wang: The ideal proportion is about 30 to 40 percent. I don't want the EB-5 funds to comprise a large proportion in the capital structure. Recently, I have hoped that my clients could hold the second lien, rather than the first. In theory, it is not as strong as the first lien. But, we don’t want to affect the funds in the bank, and that is important. For me, security is the primary concern. I don't like to gamble with my clients' money. Some people are very successful in using 100 percent of the EB-5. I really admire their accomplishments. But for me, it’s just too risky.
EB5 Investors Magazine: How many EB-5 projects do you handle every year?
Mr. Wang: I am very reluctant to discuss this. The number is not large but we have done some projects both big and small. However, the principal norm is that we work with old friends with whom we’ve collaborated with for years. Meanwhile, we also try to develop some new projects. I think that’s what really counts, but the number is not large.
EB5 Investors Magazine: Do you only work with EB-5 or have you developed investment immigration work in other countries?
Mr. Wang: I offer services in many countries, EB-5 is just one of them. WellTrend Joint Investment Advisory Co. Ltd. has been running for twenty years. Our business started in Canada and has expanded to many other countries.
EB5 Investors Magazine: Can you elaborate on some general trends you have witnessed in investment immigration? Does the immigration demand for some countries change? Is the growth of investment immigration a global trend?
Mr. Wang: Before I answer this question, I suddenly just thought of something. It was in Las Vegas the last time I visited. When I finished my speech at the seminar, a person from India came over and asked me, "Larry, why do Chinese applications for investment immigration make up more than 80 percent, while India doesn’t even reach 2 percent?" I replied, "You are the one from India, you tell me!" I just suddenly realized that it is because of the agent system in China. The industry of migration agencies is supervised by the Chinese government and a license is a must if a migration agent wants to start their own business. More than a decade ago – but less than 14 years ago -- China established the agent system, and it has grown into a large structure. In order to survive, everyone is eager to expand new business. We are guiding the masses, and a guided market is formed at the same time. Thus, many people are looking forward to immigrating to different countries. I don't believe Russians don't want to immigrate to other countries, or the United States, and I don't believe Indians don't want to come to the United States either. So why is their percentage so miniscule? Because their countries haven't established a system similar to that in China. This is the key.
EB5 Investors Magazine: So you think Chinese people have a larger demand for investment immigration because migration agents built up the industry in China. Do you think the combination of the agent system model and the environment provides the best avenue for Chinese people to immigrate?
Mr. Wang: Yes, I think so. I think the Chinese government was very wise in building the system. The massive population has taught the government how to deal with their problems. As China’s development matures, there is a portion of the population that becomes rich. When they get rich, there is a natural tendency to go abroad and send children overseas to receive higher education. This is good for the families and also for their country. Chinese people possess a very unique quality and that is they will never forget that they are Chinese, and they will return home. Just like EB-5 immigrants, we have received many families, some of them come to the United States with all family members in tow and some only send wives and children to the United States, as husbands rotate between the two countries. I think they are still running business in China. This is the particular feature of Chinese immigrants: they never completely leave home.
EB5 Investor's Magazine: What do you think the future trend of investment immigration will be? Please tell us about your experience in providing investment immigration services in other countries and also your predictions for the future.
Mr. Wang: The United States is certainly a strong competitor because it is a superpower, it is an English-speaking country, and it has significant advantages in higher education. People have been flocking to it. But I hope Americans won’t fall into the belief that Chinese immigrants choose only the United States. As I can remember it was almost ten years ago when the EB-5 business began, and it took only one or two days to get I-526 approval at that time. Right now it takes more than 14 months just to handle the application process, not to mention reversal procedures. If people want to obtain temporary green cards for the whole family, it can take about two or three years and it takes seven or eight years for capital gains. I think this whole process takes too much time, and it’s much shorter in other countries. For example, in European countries, like Portugal and Greece, governments have established quick systems for immigration investors and the systems are protected. It takes only three or four months to finish it in its entirety. This is a real estate-related immigration system, so if you purchased real estate in one of those countries, all the family members could obtain resident permits. In Greece, for example, they have taken it a step further. If all the family members obtain green cards, parents of both spouses can also immigrate with them. This in total is at least seven people, including four grandparents, parents and a child. Purchasing real estate in these countries means at least seven people can obtain resident permits. As you know, Greece has its own problems, but the country is very beautiful and the housing prices have dropped recently. You can obtain a resident permit in three or four months as long as you purchase real estate amounting to $250,000 in Euros. This is a permanent resident permit found in Schengen countries. Once you have the permanent resident permit of Greece, you can go to twenty different countries without an additional visa. Although Canada ceased the investment immigration program because of failure of investors' projects, Quebec still continues the program. Canada’s general election will be next month, and many people believe, the federal investment immigration program may be renewed. Australia is another competitive country that isn’t a bad option. The United States, Australia and Canada are all English-speaking countries and they have attracted a large number of Chinese immigrants. The United States has its own problems and the most concerning is the taxation, as the U.S. exercises a global tax system. This means if you become a permanent resident, you need to pay taxes for your revenues all over the world no matter where you live or where you work. This may affect many Chinese on their decision of their immigration destination. I want to stress that although the U.S. is the most important destination for Chinese immigrants, Chinese people still have a lot of other choices like European countries or members of the European Union. One country – Hungary -- is now selling government bonds. If you bought 250,000 Euros worth of bonds last year, 300,000 this year and continue buying it for the next five years, you will get your money back in only a few months. This way, your whole family can get Hungary resident permits. So, I want to emphasize that the U.S. faces global competition. How can the U.S. stay competitive? This is indeed a challenge.
Translated from the original Chinese article.