by Courtney Creedon
After months of preparing complex immigration forms and financial records, EB-5 investors often find themselves facing an even greater challenge upon receipt of their green cards – moving and adapting to an entirely new country and culture. Although many EB-5 investors may be familiar with the United States after many trips and research, adjusting to daily life can be daunting. Before the ink is even dry on subscription documents, EB-5 investors have likely considered what their future life will be like in the United States, where they would like to live, where they would like to send their child to school, and maybe even what car they would like to drive. Putting these plans into action requires a large amount of work, but as with all almost everything in EB-5, there are service providers ready to step in, answer investor questions and point them in the right direction.
The scope of relocation services available to investors runs the gamut from international companies that handle large-scale corporate relocations, to EB-5-specific migration agencies and regional centers, to local on-the-ground realtors who can offer insight on neighborhoods and school districts. This article will discuss the current marketplace for relocation services and what options are available to investors, then highlight some common situations new immigrants will likely encounter when moving to the United States.
Understanding the Landscape
Due diligence doesn’t end when investors choose a project and invest their capital, but continues as investors plan and prepare for relocation to the United States. In the same way that investors vet the principals of their regional center and the security of their investment, they are likely to carefully scrutinize every aspect of their move. Beyond choosing where to live in United States, EB-5 investors will have to choose how to live - how to seek medical service, how to get a driver’s license, how to buy a house and a car, how to file taxes. While investors may be perfectly comfortable with these processes in their home country, they can have difficulty navigating them in an environment with different social and procedural norms. To ease their transition, many investors turn to a reliable relocation service provider for a trusted ally and resource.
Relocation service providers come in many forms and may call themselves by different names, many of which EB-5 investors already know. The most common type of provider that investors are likely to encounter are regional centers or agencies, many of whom will work together to help investors relocate. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on three categories of service providers: large-scale relocation agencies, EB-5 regional centers and migration agencies, and individual providers.
Large-scale Service Providers
One simple Google search for relocation services yields an impressive number of results for large-scale international providers. Many of these groups assist with employee relocation for companies, but many will also handle moves for individuals and families. The services offered by some of these companies can be limited to the actual move itself, such as coordinating packing and shipping of belongings, but investors can find companies that help clients choose homes, banks, schools, and more. This may be a good option for direct investors, or for those whose agencies or regional centers do not offer relocation services. Immigrants can easily find a provider with years of experience across the United States and around the world, but may miss out on the personal touch of working with local providers or the EB-5 expertise of regional centers and migration agencies.
EB-5 Regional Centers and Migration Agencies
Working with a migration agency or EB-5 Regional Center is likely the easiest option for investors who already have a relationship with either of these entities. These groups will understand the unique circumstances of the EB-5 program, can offer success stories of past clients, and likely have staff that speaks Chinese. These groups may also have networks of similar situated people that they can introduce to the investors. However, depending on the migration agency or regional center, these groups may be limited in their breadth of service and geographic scope.
Another option the investors can choose is to work directly with individual providers within their relocation destination, such as realtors, car dealers, tax accountants. This method is often more flexible as the investors only need to pay for the specific service provided. This option allows immigrants more freedom to choose their own provider but requires them to vet the service provider themselves. These individual service providers will often answer questions and provide ancillary services for free as part of their business. Realtors, for example, will know about school districts, car dealers about loans and insurance, etc. However, immigrants may have difficulties in determining the reputation of these providers, and this option may leave them without anyone to ask questions that do not fall into any specific category, like how to find a local Chinese club. In addition, immigrants who do not speak English may well need to spend extra time finding service providers that speak Chinese.
Spotlight on the Issues
When immigrant investors plan their move to the United States, they are likely to focus on a few key issues: namely housing, schooling, healthcare, insurance, taxes and car purchasing. The below sections will outline each of these processes to help agents advise their clients and to help investors better understand standard U.S. procedures.
For most new immigrants to the United States, the first step is to find a place to live, whether it is with family and friends, at an apartment or in a home. If immigrant investors are interested in purchasing a home, they will likely work with a U.S. realtor. In order to help investor clients with this process, migration agents may want to consider adding the contact information of a few trusted realtors to their referral rolodex.
A realtor is responsible for working with sellers and buyers to arrange the sale and purchase of a home. Typically a buyer’s agent and a seller’s agent will work together to negotiate the best price for the home in the interest of both the buyer and seller. Luckily for buyers, there is no cost to work with a realtor as the seller pays their fees.
Besides facilitating the sale of a home, experienced realtors can also provide information about school districts, local stores and services, neighborhood safety, market conditions, and resale prospects, said to Susie Moore, a Windermere real estate agent of Moore Desert Homes. Additionally, realtors can offer recommendations of lenders and insurers.
According to Moore, the process of purchasing a home typically begins with a discussion of the purchaser’s interests and continues with an Internet search by the buyer to find homes that suit their needs. The realtor will then arrange for the buyer to see these homes, as well as other homes that fit a similar profile. The realtor will then walk the buyer through the entire process of purchasing a home from start to finish.
While a buyer is not required to work with a realtor, Moore suggests it is best practice to hire one. Otherwise the buyer is working with a seller who is only looking out for his or her best interests. Good realtors can be great advocates for buyers and help ensure they are getting the best price for their purchase.
Migration agents can easily find realtors who speak Chinese and who have experience in selling homes to immigrants and new residents. Immigration attorneys, regional centers and other U.S. partners will likely have at least a few trusted resources they use as references. We have included realtors in our directory at EB5Investors.com that can be contacted directly.
After housing, a major concern for EB-5 investors is where they will send their children to school. Many options exist, even within public and private categories, and new residents will need to know between which ages it is required for children to attend school. In order to enroll their child in school, parents must have proof of age and residency for their children, along with immunization records.
If the children are attending public schools, the school they will attend is often determined by where they live. In order to find the appropriate school, new residents can consult the local school district’s website or consult schools near their home and request this information.
According to Lulu Wang, officer manager from Robert Ju Insurance Agency services, “For admission to a school, students must be residing at a primary residence in the district and be available for any necessary testing at the time of registration. Due to increased enrollment across the district, space is not guaranteed at a student's attendance area school. The district does guarantee a space at an overflow school within the district.”
Many American parents will consider which school their children will be assigned to before purchasing a house. Private schools are not held to the same geographic distinctions and parents can consult these schools directly for enrollment information. American parents do not typically work with consultants to choose schools for their children, but rather rely on word of mouth, test results, ratings and other personal factors. Test results and school rankings can be accessed online.
The U.S. healthcare system is quite different than the Chinese system, and without an understanding of this new immigrants may find themselves faced with high bills and inadequate care.
What exactly is the normal procedure for seeing a doctor in the United States? Maple Yang, a clinic administrator at the Asia-pacific Gastrointestinal Center Hospital, describes the U.S. system as being broken down into primary care physicians and specialists. For routine care and the treatment of acute illnesses, patients first consult their primary care physician, who is trained to diagnose and treat a wide breadth of illnesses. They also do annual physical examinations, conduct cancer screenings, and administer vaccinations. When the patient has a physical condition that cannot be handled by the primary care physician, they will be referred to a specialist. In the case of an emergency, patients are advised to visit an urgent care clinic or hospital emergency room.
The cost of healthcare varies depending on the individual’s insurance plan, and the U.S. government requires citizens and permanent residents to buy health insurance. Depending on the applicant’s occupation, health coverage may be available through their employer, or it is available online through state and federal insurance marketplaces. Many questions can be answered on HealthCare.gov, and if immigrants need further help they can consult an insurance agent. Even after enrolling in health insurance, visiting a doctor still carries out-of-pocket expenses depending on the level of coverage, and new enrollees should make sure they understand these costs for different types of care.
Therefore, in order to see a doctor in the United States, patients need to know how to make appointments, check their insurance coverage, and find a way to communicate with doctors. As for new immigrants, it may be easier if they can find a doctor who speaks fluent Chinese. Generally, patients can find doctors through their insurance company or may be able to ask family or friends for recommendations and contact those doctors to ensure they accept their insurance.
If migration agents are interested in assisting their clients with this process they would be wise to educate themselves on the U.S. healthcare system and even partner with an insurance agent. Agents, according to Healthcare.gov, are licensed by the states in which they work and can help clients apply for coverage, choose an appropriate plan, find a doctor, and file insurance claims. Agents are paid commission to enroll patients, and as such, some may only sell plans from certain companies.
Robert Ju of Ehealthsavers Ltd. said, “The United States is a country where you need insurance for everything.”
As already discussed above, health insurance is required in the United States, but there are many other types of insurance as well, including homeowners insurance, auto insurance and life insurance.
Homeowner insurance is not legally required. However, if the homeowner has a mortgage loan, the lender will likely require them to carry insurance to protect the home from disaster and damage. Experienced realtors can recommend insurers, and insurance brokers are able to help clients analyze which plan is right for them. Customers can also find insurers over the internet and receive free coverage quotes to compare the best rates.
Unlike homeowners insurance, car insurance is legally required in most states. Car dealerships can provide insurance information, or customers can work with insurance agents that will help them compare plans. Again, customers can also find insurers over the internet and receive free coverage quotes to compare the best rates. In many states that require coverage, insurance must be purchased before the car is driven off the lot. The arrangement can be made in advance and finalized at the time of purchase, or purchased over the phone before leaving the dealership. All insurance will have deductibles, co-pays, and other coverage stipulations. It’s important for consumers to read these through to understand what will be covered before purchasing the insurance.
Chinese EB-5 investors may choose to purchase life insurance after they arrive in the United States to secure the financial future of their family. Insurance brokers can help new residents choose the right options in any insurance situation and migration agents may forge partnerships with such providers in order to better serve their clients.
Purchasing a Car
Purchasing a car is probably the most simple of relocation needs. New immigrants can buy a car from any car dealership, and they can likely find a dealer who speaks Chinese. Cars tend to be cheaper in the United States than in China, and can be leased or bought through monthly payments rather than in cash up front. Car dealers are located in almost every major city in the United States and they have special programs for leasing and financing.
Friends, family members or neighbors can likely recommend a car dealer that they had a positive experience with. Migration agents may familiarize themselves with Chinese-speaking car dealers to recommend to their clients.
It is strongly advised that tax planning be started prior to relocation and migration agents are encouraged to aid their investors in this process. Once in the United States with a permanent visa, tax planning will only continue. Taxes in the United States fund the government and pay for public goods and services, such as law enforcement, infrastructure and schools. Three of the most common form of taxes are income tax, property tax and sales tax. The amount of these taxes will vary by state, with some states not requiring certain types of taxes.
Many Americans file taxes on their own each year by completing the forms online or by mail, but depending on the individual’s specific situation, tax laws can be quite complex. If new residents are uncomfortable filing taxes themselves they can consult tax professionals. According to Paul Scholz of Onisko & Scholz, LLP in Southern California, “Tax accountants will help taxpayers comply with the law and keep them out of trouble. A good advisor will also assist in keeping tax burdens to a minimum by recommending different strategies to reduce taxes, as well as help with financial decisions.”
Clients can verify the credentials of tax professionals by looking at their certification, advanced degrees, and membership in professional organizations that encourage continuing education, Scholz said.
Whether filing on their own or with professional assistance, “April 15th is the magic date that tax returns should be filed by,” Scholz notes. If that date cannot be met, individuals can ask for an extension to file but will be charged penalties if their taxes are paid past that date.