October 1, 2012
By: Scott Blake
Investment visas pump millions into MiamiBy Scott Blake The US governments Immigrant Investor Program — known as “green card via the red carpet” — is pumping millions of dollars into South Florida business ventures from wealthy foreign nationals willing to invest big money to secure a place in the US. Those familiar with the EB-5 visa program say it has helped create some innovative projects in South Florida, including the University of Miamis Life Science & Technology Park in Miami. And more projects — chosen for their potential for economic development and job creation — are in the works. “Theyre not just buying a green card,” said Maralyn Leaf, a Miami attorney specializing in immigration law who has worked with EB-5 investors and business ventures. “This is a government program that brings in employment and doesnt use a penny of taxpayer money.” The nationwide program provides permanent US residency for foreign nationals who invest $1 million — or at least $500,000 in “targeted employment areas” — in new businesses. EB-5 was designed to help the economy through job creation and capital investment. The money from each investor is tied to creating or preserving at least 10 full-time jobs for US workers. The program has spawned more than 20 so-called regional centers in Florida, including several in Greater Miami that have generated seed money for everything from new hotels and restaurants to bio-science and research startups. The regional centers promote economic growth by garnering immigrant investors for new commercial enterprises. Foreign nationals also can bypass the centers and invest in standalone businesses. Even local government wants to get into the action. Miami officials are seeking federal approval to create an EB-5 regional center at City Hall. Perhaps Greater Miamis most successful regional center was a venture called Birchleaf Miami 31, which generated $20 million from 40 immigrant investors for development of the Life Science & Technology Park. The office and lab complex was designed to house medical research, biotech and science firms. “Its a very good example of how the program can work,” said Ms. Leaf, who worked on the Birchleaf venture. With Birchleaf, money from investors went to Wexford Science & Technology, the parks developer, in the form of a loan. “These are millionaires and sophisticated businesspeople,” she said about the Birchleaf investors, adding that some have started their own businesses here since receiving visas through the program. In addition, Ms. Leaf and Luciana Fischer, also a Miami attorney, are forming an EB-5 venture named Leaf Fischer Investment Group to garner immigrant investors for the development of a resort on Key Largo. She said about a dozen foreign nationals are interested in investing in the proposal, called Fishermans Cove, which would include a marina, restaurant, retail shops and spa. The Birchleaf project went without hitches, but that doesnt mean theres no financial risk for EB-5 investors. “This is an enormously complex program,” Ms. Leaf said. “A lot of due diligence should be done, first by the regional centers and then by investors.”To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.