Diving into the EB-5 Program for Vietnamese Investors, with Trudi Hoang of Citizen Pathway
What is the EB-5 process like for Vietnamese investors seeking their EB-5 visa? What is their focus and how are they different from investors from other countries? Trudi Hoang, CEO of Citizen Pathway Investment, chats with host Ali Jahangiri to tell us what EB-5 investment immigration from Vietnam to the United States is like, based on her nearly 10 years of experience.
Trudi: ...to the EB-5 investor right now. So, we have the kind of really strict due diligence process before we choose any project to introduce to my clients because my ultimate goal is to make sure my client is fine after five years, seven years, not only now.
Ali: Welcome to the "Voice of EB-5" by "EB-5 Investors Magazine." We will have provoking discussions every week on the EB-5 program, so please tune into our podcast. Good morning, everybody. It's Ali Jahangiri, coming to you with a "Voice of EB-5." Today we have a special guest from Vietnam. It's late night there, so I appreciate her getting on the podcast with us. Her name is Trudi Hoang, and she's a friend of ours from a while ago where we met in Ho Chi Minh. And giving her a little bit of her background for you, Trudi is the founder of a company called Citizen Pathway Investment. It's an immigrant investment company out of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. It provides immigration services like the ones we always talk about...we talk about the agents. She is one of the agents in Vietnam. So, she specializes in helping investors place their investment into EB-5 deals and also deals for other countries such as Portugal and a variety of other visas and Green Cards available to the public.
She estimates that she has helped successfully place about 400 Vietnamese high-net-worth individuals in EB-5 over the last 7 or 8 years she's been involved. Prior to this, she was working at ImmiCa Immigration in 2015, a company that was also a migration agency. So, Trudi headed that company with the investors for a while, working with the CEO and other folks in the company. And that's where she got her experience. And after that, she launched Citizen Pathway just recently about a year ago with her team. They are experienced in what they do. And Trudi has her, I would say, she has her 10,000 hours of experience in immigration. Welcome, Trudi, to our podcast, "Voice of EB-5."
Trudi: Hi, Ali. And hi, everyone. Good morning there. It's my pleasure to tune in the podcast, the "Voice of EB-5." And thank you, Ali and EB5Investors, for having me.
Ali: We're very happy to have you as one of our early podcasts, one of our first ones. With this podcast, Trudi, I think it's important for us to focus on Vietnam and your experiences there. Can you give us a little bit of background of when you're speaking to investors and when you're talking specifically about EB-5, what do these investors care about?
Trudi: Sure, Ali. Yes, nearly 10-year experience in the industry and I've been talking and have over 400 clients directly with me and with my team. Me and my team are really passionate about EB-5. And now Citizen Pathway, we are concentrating on helping Vietnamese investors to success on their journey. So, for Vietnam market, after working with so many people, I love EB-5, my clients too. I think it's a great program for people to invest in the U.S. and have the Green Card for their family. Vietnam likes the U.S. When they do the EB-5, there are two things that they care the most. First, how do they get the Green Card, the permanent Green Card? And second, how do they get the money back? And the more I work in the industry, Ali, the more I've been more conservative, more concentration, and care more about the investors.
So, before, it's $500,000. Now with $800,000. It's not big. It's not small for the people who invest, but it's not only an investment, it's not only money, but it's about hope, dream, and the future plan for the family. So, I take it really serious to do what we do and to make it smoothly and to make it easier to my clients to achieving their goal to the U.S. So, really important at the first time for my clients, for Vietnamese investors to choose an agent to work with because one of the most difficult part to doing the EB-5 is how to doing the source of fund and how to wire money to the U.S. And the second part is how to choose a right project for them to get the money back and for them to get the permanent Green Card.
Ali: Trudi, before we go into the steps, I wanna focus on one of the things you mentioned just now. You mentioned this is an emotional process for them and their kids. Can you elaborate on what you see with the investors? Are they very anxious or nervous in your office? Tell us a little about how the investors are when you see these clients when they walk in your office?
Trudi: Sure, Ali. I just had lunch today with my clients, my investors. He's got really close to me and Citizen Pathway. And you know what? He’s really excited. He met us because he's gonna fly to the U.S. next month, not for Green Card, not yet because he chose eight months from the file number date, the priority day, but he's really excited for his trip because he’s going to explore which place he wanna stay to buy houses and to relocate in the U.S. And he shares with me a lot. He's one of many of my clients that share with me how anxious, how excited he and his family have on the journey. It's not only... It's about really emotional, Ali. It's a plan... It's not only a future plan, but about the dream, hope, not only for him, but about his family. So, some clients, when they do EB-5, they waited for months, and they just keep waiting. And when do they get the approval and got the visa to come to U.S.? Some clients just waiting for days. After they got approval, they waiting the visa for days. And when they see their priority day is upcoming, they're really excited and they pray to the day they can come to the U.S.
Ali: Trudi, you're talking about when they actually initially come on their conditional or when they're actually getting their Green Card? Which one were you referring to? The conditional?
Trudi: I mean, the first stage, the conditional Green Card.
Ali: So, that's an exciting day for them, you're saying, the conditional one?
Ali: Yeah. So, how long does it takes, Trudi, for them after they file their I-526? How long does it take for them to get their conditional and come to the U.S.?
Trudi: Because we have about three stages, three main stage, first, they submit their I-526. Now it's I-526E for a regional center. And they got approval and they got the visa. And the last step is they got the permanent Green Card and then they got their money back. So, after they submit their I-526, they already committed, they already wired their money to the U.S.
Ali: So, how long does it usually take on average between submitting their I-526 and actually getting their conditional coming to the U.S.?
Trudi: It's diverse, Ali, for Vietnam market, right? I've been working in the industry from 2014 to 2017, it takes one and a half year to two years maximum for them to get Green Card. For the people who submitted their petition, from 2017 to… until now, right? It took about three years to four years for them to get Green Card. And now for the new EB-5, if they submit their petition, it would take about three to four years, I guess, to get the Green Card for them. So, yeah, it depends on how many EB-5 petition are in USCIS right now and about the visa availability for Vietnam.
Ali: Actually, from the I-526 submission, the day they invest and they submit their file to the time where they get conditional consular processing and they're able to actually come to the U.S. on some kind of conditional visa.
Trudi: Yes. If the petition was submitted before 2017, it took about one to two years when Vietnam have not been backlogged yet. After 2017, 2018 until now, Vietnam got backlogged, but it's not too bad. People still get their Green Card from the day they submit their petition about three to four years, which is not really bad.
Ali: Yeah, that's not bad.
Trudi: Yeah. Many of my clients just got their visa after the program backed and they already moved to the U.S., which is really happy. So, still, there are opportunity for Vietnamese people to do it with a short time.
Ali: No, that's great news. So, this process, you kind of see it as three steps, you're saying. The first step is you're submitting your application, your second step is getting to the U.S., and then the third step is getting your money back, right?
Trudi: Yes, it is.
Ali: That's a great way to narrow that process down. So, when you're seeing these clients, I want to really touch upon their questions and their sense of being in their emotional aspects. When you talk to these clients, what are they most concerned about, Trudi? Are they most concerned about that Green Card or most concerned about getting their money back when you talk to them?
Trudi: I think the most important thing is their Green Card, and when will they get it? Because they need to arrange everything in Vietnam. Most of my clients is businessmen, really successful people in Vietnam. They have companies here, they have family here. They need to know when will they get the Green Card for them to move. Most of them doing this plan for their children because their children is already study in the U.S. already. Right? So, they do this for their children.
Ali: So, most of the people that you work with already have their kids in the U.S.?
Trudi: Yes. Correct.
Ali: Oh, wow. So, your standard client has kids in school in the U.S. and they're trying to do this for the kids or are they doing that for themselves?
Trudi: Most of them do it for the kids because they are at the age of 40 years, 50 years, right? They are really successful— millionaires people, right? The eligible investors have their assets of over $1 million. And they will invest $500,000 before, and now $800,000. They are really successful. They have companies, they have many real estates in here. They have great life in here. They do the EB-5, not only for themselves, because most of my clients, not really good at English. They do it for the children because their children study in the U.S. and they really would like to stay.
Ali: So, they're doing it to create an opportunity for their kids to educated in the U.S.
Trudi: Yeah. And also for the future. Right? They love the life in the U.S also. They would love to reunion with their kids to take care of the family and have the life there.
Ali: Trudi, would you say most of these individuals who apply have a net worth of between $2 million and $5 million? What's the range you see most people with their net worths?
Trudi: Yes. It's about $2 millions to $3 millions as average.
Ali: And that's... Trudi, is that net worth, or is that cash-in-hand? Is that, like, their value of their properties and the value of all their assets or is that actually cash in the bank?
Trudi: Not cash in the bank. Not many people put $1 million in cash on bank. Most of them put in real estate, their assets, their companies, right? Not many people put that much money on the bank.
Ali: Yep. That's important because I guess what you're saying is this money, just the fact that they have $800,000 cash in the bank is a very important thing for them. It's a very big deal.
Trudi: True. True. If they wanna do EB-5, they must prepare $800,000 in cash, on bank, or they need to liquid their property. So, it may take... But it's not take too much time with them, just some months from the day they decided.
Ali: They have to sell their property or do something to create that $800 grand liquid.
Ali: That's interesting. So, do you sometimes get applications from investors that are maybe thinking of doing it but haven't liquidated yet, or do they come to you and say, "Hey, I have this property worth $1 million of cash equity, but I'm gonna sell it, so you need to give me three months or four months?" Do you see a lot of clients like that?
Trudi: Yes. It's really common because the real estate market in Vietnam have been really developed and increased these years. It's really interesting that some clients that I've known from three to four years ago at that time, one client from the center of Vietnam, she called me and she say, "Hey, Trudi, before I have a land, about $400,000, I couldn't liquid that for the EB-5, but now that land tripled on the value, so now I can do the EB-5. And I'm ready now to do the EB-5. It's time because my kid is 18 years old already. Do it for me." So, that's really interesting that many people have been rich through the investment, through their business so they can eligible for the EB-5. So, the increase in money of the EB-5 investment is not the problem. The most concern that my clients, Vietnamese clients think about is about the processing time, about the certain, the guarantee of their Green Card and how they get the money back. That's the most important thing.
Ali: That's an important thing, Trudi. I'm glad you bring this up. One of the other questions I have for you which puts things into perspective here is, your team has to emotionally deal with these investors obviously and work with them today to get them to liquidate, to invest, and all this stuff. Now, that's one side of your operation. Now, your other side of your operation, you have to choose projects, correct? You have to actually analytically look at projects and give your clients a choice of a couple of them. It's kind of a tough job as an agent, right, because you have to emotionally deal with the investors. And then on the second side of it, your company has to actually look at the analytical details and get into the nitty-gritty of the projects to see which one you wanna offer them. Am I right the way I'm seeing this about the agency?
Trudi: Yes, Ali, I agree with you. There are three things that on my perspective, the EB-5 investor need to know before they make a decision to do the EB-5. The first is if they be approved by USCIS with their source of fund because it's really important on their process. One of the most important thing that we think is doing the source of fund. And before we start to sign the contract with the clients, we wanna make sure it's gonna be approved and we have the guarantee term on the contract to make sure that they got the visa. And if they don't have the visa, we guarantee to pay back all the service and the legal fees, and we have the bank to guarantee to pay back to the clients on that. So, my team, the case team, have experience from 8 to 10 years to doing hundreds of cases, so we're kind of confident to make it good to the clients because this not only a normal business or normal investment, I believe, Ali, is a lifetime decision that we take it really serious to do it right.
And thank you for asking the question. The second important part and the third important part related to how to choose the right project at the first time, because not only be approved at the first stage for them to get the conditional Green Card, the most important part is if they get the permanent Green Card or not depends on the project they chose at the first time. And will they get their money back? Also depends on the project they chose. So, it is our responsibility to consult to clients at the first time. And that's my most concern to do it. So, we have experience to choosing project. We've been working with over 20 projects on the market. We know their track record, their responsibility, and their commitment to the EB-5 investor right now. So, we have the kind of really strict due diligence process before we choose any project to introduce to my clients because my ultimate goal is to make sure my client is fine after five years, seven years, not only now.
Ali: Yeah. I'm happy you're looking, Trudi, as a long term.
Ali: It's very healthy to look at this as a long-term plan and...
Ali: ... I'm sure your investors will be really happy with you the way you're looking at this and how conservative you are. I think that's very important in the process and also very commendable on your half. So, in terms of your diligence group, though, and the people that are looking at your deals, do you feel like... I'm saying this more of you because you're the CEO. Do you feel this is a pretty tough thing to do, you're balancing on one end these investors and their emotions and their kids and what they want? And then, on the other end, you have to put on your analytical hat and you have to analyze documents that have been drafted by many lawyers and many high-paid, high-level consultants in the U.S. have drafted these documents. Do you feel like it's a challenge to deal with both these aspects in your company?
Trudi: Yeah. Before, if you ask me that question about eight years ago or five years ago, Ali, I would feel kind of embarrassed to answer that question because I've not have so many experience, but now I'm kind of really confident to say it's really simple. The way we do this kind of business is we're trying to deliver more what we say to the clients. My quote is "We do what we say we do." And what we say to my team is "Do more what you say you do to the investors." So, we have a monthly report to our EB-5 investor group because we have every projects we introduce, we have group. We connect all of EB-5 Investor in that project into one group on Zalo. So, every quarter, we have private dinner just to invite every of my clients come to the party just to say thank you to them and connect them all together.
For example, we have project with two tables, right, about over 10 clients, 10 families sitting on two tables and then other group of other project, other group of other project, and we connect them all together. And I just came back from the U.S. I met you in LA, right? Thank you for your time and hospitality, by the way. And I visited all of... Yeah. I visited all of the project that we've been introduced. And after that, we have Citizen Pathway report to the clients, not only projects report. So, I take it really seriously to take care of my clients to make sure that their project is doing good and to be updated to them because I know how they feel when they're sitting in Vietnam and waiting for their visa and if their project is doing good or not. So, my responsibility is every year we took that trip and make a report to the clients.
Ali: I appreciate... I'm sure your clients appreciate you taking this so seriously and looking at everything in detail. What's your timeline in terms of the next year or so? What are your goals? You told me about 15 staff on your team, but what's your timeline and your goals in terms of how many investors you wanna help this year, how big you want your company to get? Tell us a little about your goals in your future timeline over this next year.
Trudi: Yeah. Thank you, Ali. Yes. Now my company located in CJ Building, CJ tower sixth Le Thanh Ton, District 1. So, we have about 15 member in Citizen Pathway. Most of them have over five or seven years experience on doing EB-5. We know what we do. And my plan is to expand the office to double and have more space for my team and also the ability to serve more clients next year. So, we are gonna have the bigger and better office beginning of next year that I hope you can be there to celebrate with us. So, my goals is with our experience and competence we know that we can do it right and have more people like many of my clients achieving their goals in the U.S. We target to serve about 50 to 100 clients per year because we know that new EB-5 is safer, better, and we have experience and competence to make it the best to the clients.
And we suppose to have more 10 to 20 years to go with the industry to take care of our clients for their success in the U.S., get their money back and get their permanent Green Card. We're now one of the most concentration and active agent in Vietnam. And with the support of my lawyer, clients, with my partners, with attorneys, we have our own corporate attorneys to review all of the docs and to help us to consult the best to the clients. So, I'm really positive to the future. And EB-5 is a great program as long as each party doing the right thing and doing the good job on what they're doing. And Vietnamese investor, you know, Ali, they're already success in Vietnam. I believe they have the right to success more, not only in Vietnam, but over the world. And the U.S. is just the beginning. And I know that they can be success in the U.S. in beginning their new life. So, we are here to serve. We are here to support.
Ali: You know, I can tell in the tone of your voice that you're empathetic about the true success of your investors. Just looking in their crystal ball here, do you feel like the Vietnam market is leading the pack? Is there new immigration agencies popping up? Is there more investors coming in? What's your general feel about the Vietnam market if you're gonna look at it objectively?
Trudi: Yes. Thank you for asking, Ali. Vietnam is always in the top three of one of the most active and have the most investor in the world just after China and India. And now with the backlog of China and India, I believe Vietnam will be the second or even upcoming the first market for EB-5. Now USCIS have their commitment to shorten their processing time of the I-526. They are trying to do it in six months, right now they are eight to nine. They're trying to do it as soon as possible. And the new visa is upcoming. Many positive news for Vietnamese investors to get their visa sooner and more protection ways with the new law for them to get the money back, to preserve their money. So, I do feel really positive about the market. The market is still really potential. For agency perspective, I believe there are opportunity also as long as they have competence and they are professional, they're doing the right thing, I believe there are opportunity to serve more Vietnamese investors to have them success in the U.S. So, we need to work harder, you know, Ali, with the harder market. So, I'm really excited, and I hope that my investors, Vietnamese investors, will have positive news soon from the USCIS.
Ali: Well, now that EB-5 has started back up, I think things will get more fluid and it'll flow a little bit easier in terms of the government. But I appreciate you being on the call. I know it's 10:48 p.m. in Ho Chi Minh, and you stayed up late for this podcast, so we appreciate you, Trudi. And thank you for everything you did for us at this last event. It was very successful. And please keep in touch. And any last statements you have, please let the "Voice of EB-5" folks know what you're thinking.
Trudi: Yes, Ali. I would like to thank you very much for the opportunity and for having me today. So, it's my pleasure. And I appreciate all of your effort. I know you have great contribution to the market and to our investors, so really appreciate it. And your events did great and help a lot to the market, not only for us as an agent, but also for EB-5 Investor. So, really helpful, really informative. And I hope we have more event upcoming of you in Ho Chi Minh city. So, thank you very much for having me.
Ali: Thank you, Trudi. Well, get ready for March. We're coming back to your town.
Ali: So, thank you.
Trudi: I'm excited. Looking forward to it.
Ali: Perfect. And hopefully, we'll see you in January in Miami for our annual event.
Trudi: Yes, I'm coming. Yeah.
Ali: Thank you for taking all this effort and time.
Trudi: Thank you.
Ali: You have been listening to the "Voice of EB-5" podcast by "EB-5 Investors Magazine." To learn more about this episode, please visit eb5investors.com/podcast. Join again soon for more conversations, and please stay tuned.