By EB5 Investors Magazine Staff
Tuan Nguyen started his research on EB-5 like many other investors did: he googled. But unlike other investors who might get overwhelmed by the complicated process of EB-5 and turn to professionals for help, Nguyen patiently pored over every piece of information available online, meticulously listed candidate regional centers and projects that appealed to him, then picked up the phone to talk with developers directly.
“I know exactly what I am looking for,” he said.
Nguyen is one of a few Vietnamese investors who managed to “DIY” their EB-5 application without the help of brokers or migration agents. As a successful businessman with extensive experience in investment and business strategies, he understands what kind of projects generate good returns and stand a higher chance of meeting EB-5 requirements.
Thorough Preparation for the EB-5 Adventure
Nguyen served as the chief commercial officer in a Vietnamese company before establishing his own investment and commercial consultancy. With the belief that the U.S. offers the most dynamic markets in the world, he was determined to extend his business to the land of opportunity. To avoid the tedious preparation of acquiring travel documents every time he entered the country and to facilitate the daily operation of his business in the U.S., he decided to invest in a green card through the EB-5 program.
As a sophisticated investor, Nguyen is very prudent about whom he works with and what he invests in. After talking with some local migration agents, he decided to skip the middlemen and vet projects himself.
“I don’t want to be tied up to very limited choices,” he explained. “I like to find out myself.”
And so he did. His comprehensive study on EB-5 featured strict scrutiny on immigration and securities requirements as well as track records of a long list of regional centers and developers. He perused business plans and dug into its expenditure items to decide if the project made sense from the standpoint of commercial viability.
“I know how much it costs to build certain things. I looked for the one that came closest to my standards,” Nguyen said.
His English skills and past experiences in working with American partners enabled him to engage in direct conversation with developers and regional centers. He talked with a lot of them to discuss project details. To Nguyen, this was the best way to find out if a developer is trustworthy and if a project is likely to win him a green card.
A mixed-use real estate development project on Staten Island in New York City became “the lucky one.” Nguyen chose a project in an underdeveloped neighborhood with poor infrastructure and a high unemployment rate but with convenient ferry services connecting the island to the central business districts of Manhattan.
"It is a good location in the sense of EB-5 compliance and investment principles," he explained.
In August 2017, after five months of intensive due diligence, Nguyen filed his I-526 petition.
Looking back at his self-instructing crash course on EB-5, Nguyen acknowledged that navigating through the EB-5 jungle independently could be intricate and exhausting. He had to delve into the legal and financial minutiae of the program and investigate each project thoroughly. But he believes this is an indispensable stage that every investor ought to go through.
“Imagine you are going to give half a million dollars to someone else from a country, which you have no clue about,” he said. “If you have several billion dollars, then throwing in half a million in this way is fine. But not many investors are like that.”
The problem is, the majority of Vietnamese investors do not have the time, language skills and expertise in investment to find the right path leading to a green card. They have no choice but to turn to migration agents. He thinks many investors in Vietnam might be kept in the dark due to the lack of credible sources of information; they have to guess what is inside the EB-5 black box.
“Information, information and information — that is the single most important thing and the biggest challenge facing them,” he said.
Urging for Information Availability and Transparency
Vietnam has become one of the most prosperous EB-5 markets during the past five years and the upsurge does not seem to end soon. Some 46 investors from Vietnam were granted EB-5 visas in fiscal year 2013, while the number soared to 471 in fiscal year 2017, a roughly ten-fold increase in only five years, according to the annual Report of Visa Office published by the U.S. Department of State. Although the market is thriving, Vietnamese investors’ knowledge of EB-5 and relevant information available to them are far from sufficient to support wise investment and immigration decisions.
Nguyen likens the situation to piloting an airplane with blocked vision. He estimated that about 70 percent of EB-5 investors from Vietnam are struggling in such blindness.
Nguyen urges the EB-5 community to provide more information accessible to the Vietnamese market and bridge the communication gap between project managements and investors.
Public and credible EB-5 information targeting the Vietnamese audience is very limited, Nguyen criticized.
“I can talk in English and I’ve been to the U.S. many times,” he said. “But even now, there are still some areas that I can’t really touch, let alone those investors with little knowledge of investment and EB-5.”
He underscores the need for a comprehensive and straightforward explanation of the immigration and investment requirements available to newcomers.
Independent databases listing regional centers and having testimonials from former investors will bring enormous benefits to investors, he said. They will also exert influence on the healthy development of the industry, he added.
Nguyen advocates for tightening regulations on EB-5 brokerage activities to avoid scams and frauds. He also stresses the importance of having clearer guidelines for TEA designations to enable investors to evaluate numerous projects.
Nguyen reckons that investors in Vietnam are becoming more educated about EB-5 and more skeptical of marketing pitches from agents. Vietnamese investors are taking every piece of information handed to them with a grain of salt.
“Some agents are still boasting about 100 percent success,” he said, “But smart investors can smell something wrong here.”
Nguyen urges regional centers and developers to take more effort in gaining exposure in the local market and reach out to prospective investors directly. According to him, they know their business well.
“They are very helpful,” he said, “but they don’t have enough access to the market.”
Nguyen suggested that information platforms like EB5Investors.com build more checklists of EB-5 dos and don’ts to help investors tiptoe around pitfalls during the application.
Nguyen believes it is the responsibility of every gameplayer in the community to promote information availability and create a sustainable ecosystem for the Vietnamese EB-5 market.
“Bringing information to people from all sides of the program is critical,” he said.
With strong confidence in the effectiveness of his due diligence and the project he selected, Nguyen has promptly started preparing for the establishment of his new company with his I-526 pending. He plans to travel to the U.S. soon to negotiate contracts with potential partners.
“I want to get the ball rolling,” he said. “I am not waiting for anything.”