CHELSEA — A Manhattan-based immigration lawyer and real estate broker wants to connect wealthy Chinese investors looking for green cards with small developers and nonprofits to build affordable housing, recreation centers, assisted living facilities and other projects across the city.
Min Chan hopes to tap the controversial federal immigration program known as EB-5, which grants visas to foreigners who invest $500,000 in U.S. projects that create 10 full-time jobs within 2 years. The program also gives visas to their families and children.
Min Chan, a Manhattan-based immigration lawyer with her own firm and real estate broker with City Connections Realty, at the real estate firm’s Chelsea offices. Chan specializes in EB-5 compliance and is setting up a regional center with City Connections Realty to help it work on projects funded through the federal visa program.View Full Caption
The program, which enables developers to tap low-interest funding, is intended to be a job-generator for high-poverty and high-unemployment areas.
The EB-5 program — which is up for review in Congress this September — has come under fire for lax regulations that have led to shadowy transactions and scams. Some watchdogs have raised national security concerns since the fast-tracked EB-5 visas aren’t required to have the same background checks as other visa applicants.
“It’s like the wild west right now,” said Chan. “You’re going to hear about a lot more troubles, but I think it’s going to become more self-regulated as professionals using the program share best practices.”
Chan, who recently joined City Connections Realty, is helping the real estate firm apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department to become a “regional center.” The designation would allow City Connections to attract immigrant investors and direct them to particular local EB-5 investment opportunities.
There are currently 601 regional centers in the U.S., up from 11 in 2007, according to Savills Studley.
Chan plans to make the financial structure of projects — and their risks — “easy to understand” to developers and investors, she said.
“We want to be transparent,” said Chan. “Part of our goal is to educate the small developer.”
She believes Chinese philanthropists want to invest in community-development projects that are “doing good” for the city, said Chan, whose mother is a developer in China.
“High net worth individuals in China want to have their children educated in the U.S.,” Chan said. They also want to help their kids stay in the U.S. after school to work, which is why getting a visa for their family is so important.
“The U.S. offers more economic and political stability [than China],” Chan said.
The EB-5 program, which started in 1990, became more sought after following the 2008 financial crisis when credit became harder to obtain. It’s especially attractive since EB-5 capital is generally cheaper than standard forms of bank lending and there are few restrictions on it, said Michael Gibson, a financial adviser who vets EB-5 investments for USA Advisors.