International

Why luxury agents must understand the EB-5 visa

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way with foreign investors

Brent Raymond is riding the wave of history. As executive director of Vermont’s EB-5 “investor visa” hub, Raymond’s job is to persuade Chinese immigrant investors that Vermont is the best place in the United States for them to underwrite job-creating projects.

By any measure, Raymond has been astonishingly successful.

The EB-5 program has generated large benefits. One promoter calls it “the only government program that doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything.” It is credited with creating 49,000 jobs and more than $6.8 billion in new investment.

Here’s how it works: Anyone who invests at least $500,000 in a project that creates 10 full-time jobs can obtain a U.S. permanent residency visa, better known as a “green card.”

The state of Vermont, according to Vermont Digger, has six active EB-5 projects, which should net approximately $400 million of investment.

Jay Peak Resort is one big beneficiary. Not so many years ago, Jay Peak was a little-known ski area. Today, it is a large and popular four-season destination. Its expansion was paid for almost entirely by EB-5 investors.

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The new $18 million lodge? Yep, that was an EB-5 project. The hotel and conference center? That was, too.

How about the indoor water park, new penthouse suites and mountain sport education center? They are also EB-5 projects. As are the wedding venue, new retail space and townhouse projects.

And EB-5 isn’t limited to Vermont. The federal government has approved 786 EB-5 regional centers across the country.

Every real estate agent who works with high-end buyers from outside of the country should educate themselves about the EB-5 visa. It could help you both win clients and close sales. And real estate agents are well-placed to play a role in the EB-5 process — both on the project side and on the residence side.

On the project side, real estate development is a favored project type because it generally creates lots of jobs. As gatekeepers, analysts and promoters of development projects, agents can help both investors and developers be successful.

On the residence side, immigrants who obtain an EB-5 visa are very likely to also buy a premium home in the country — with your help. Remember that the location of their new home is not necessarily the same as that of their investment project. You might have a Chinese high net worth individual who invests in a program in western Washington state but wants to live in New York City or California.

Here are my four top tips for building your business with the EB-5 visa:

1. Educate yourself. You have to understand the program to be a useful asset to developers or investors. Start at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website.

2. Make connections. Seek out specialist lawyers and developers who have EB-5-approved projects. Do a Google search for the name of your area or state and “EB-5.”

3. Help investors. Use your knowledge to answer your buyers’ questions. Introduce them to approved developers.

4. Market yourself as an agent who understands the EB-5. This enhances your credibility with international buyers, even those not seeking a green card this way. Put information about the EB-5 visa in your online profile; post about it on your blog and in your newsletter; and mention it in your marketing materials.

Any high net worth overseas buyer will want to know if the EB-5 is right for them. Dealing with an agent who is conversant with the details will be attractive. A little bit of knowledge about the EB-5 visa could be very profitable.

Andrew Taylor is the co-CEO of Juwai.com.