Select Highlights of the Interview with Ram from India
EB-5 Investor in the EB5AN Twin Lakes Rural EB-5 Project
Full Interview with Ram
EB-5 Investor in the EB5AN Twin Lakes Rural EB-5 Project
Transcript of the Full Interview with Ram from India
Why Did You Make An EB-5 Investment?
Hi, Sam. Happy to be here. My name’s Ram. I’m originally from India. I came to the United States first on my F-1 visa to pursue grad school, and after graduating with a master’s degree, I got a job in the United States and my employer-sponsored my H-1B visa. I’ve been on an H-1B visa ever since. Overall, I’ve been in the United States for about 10 years. Within that time, my employer did sponsor me for a Green Card through the EB-2 employment category, which was approved in May 2017, and ever since I’ve been stuck in this EB-2 queue waiting for a Green Card.
This primarily happened during the pandemic, when I saw the EB-2 numbers move forward in the visa bulletin. That intrigued me to inquire, “Hey, let’s go and look at when my number’s going to come up in the EB-2 category and when I’ll be able to come out of the H-1B visa with a Green Card in hand.” At that time, I was primarily trying to make sense of supply and demand. Supply in the number of visas that are issued for EB-2 Indian nationals, and then demand on how many people who are applying for EB-2 visas from India. On the supply side, I was able to find that pre-COVID USCIS was able to approve about 7,000 applicants in 2015, and then the numbers started to go down. In 2020, you could see about 2,500 applicants were approved.
In the chart that’s here, you can see that the 2021 and 2020 numbers are outliers because of COVID. There was a spillover from family-based applicants into the employment category, but since then, that number has stabilized. From the supply side, you can think of the best-case scenario: USCIS is going to go back to processing about 7,000 applicants a year. Worst case, it’s going to be somewhere between 2,000 applicants per year. We have a good idea of what happens on the supply side. Now, if you go onto the demand side of things is where it gets a bit more challenging to figure out how many applicants are in front of a given priority date. I worked with the I-140 numbers because, in the EB-2 category, each applicant who’s filing for a Green Card should have an I-140 approved before they go on to get their Green Card, and you get the Green Card only when your priority date becomes current.
You have a lot of people who are stuck with approved I-140 applications from India. The red line here shows the number of I-140 approvals that’s happening per year. This doesn’t account for duplicate entries. For example, I have two I-140s approved because I switched employers and my second employer also sponsored my Green Card, and I have an I-140 approved. The only reason I haven’t been given a Green Card is because the priority date for India nationals in EB-2 category is not current. Every year, there’s about 30,000-ish applicants who have the I-140 approved for Indian nationals. Taking that number, the second line from the bottom shows the running sum—if you have a priority date on, let’s say, December 31, 2021, there are about 200,000 I-140 applicants who have gotten their I-140s approved before you.
The other intricate thing that I found as I was reading through all this was that your dependents also count towards the numbers in the visa category, so we have to account for dependents and then we have to also account for duplicate entries and people who abandon their I-140s. Just doing some rough calculations here, I subtracted 20% from the running sum to account for duplicates and for people who abandoned their I-140 applications. You could imagine that this number could be different, but just a quick back-of-the-napkin math subtracts 20% from the running sum; for example, in 2021 there were 200,000 people with approved I-140 applications. And then accounting for dependents basically doubles that number. That puts the total number of people who have I-140s approved as of December 31, 2021, to be about 440,000.
Now, this gives you an idea of what the demand could be. This is not super accurate, but at least gives you a picture of what the demand is for different years. Now that we have the trends showing what the supply was and we have a basic idea of what the demand could be, the next slide would be just putting these numbers together. If you go onto the next slide, you can see that the gray boxes are basically the running sum of I-140 approvals, including the dependents, and then we just plot different numbers trying to make sense of what would be the approval rate on a specific date. For example, there are three lines. One is assuming the worst case scenario, that USCIS will process about 5,000 visas per year.
The second-best scenario is doing about 700,000 visas per year. The third-best scenario would be processing about 10,000 visas per year in the EB-2 India queue. When I was evaluating when my number was going to come up, I leaned towards looking at the 5,000 per year rather than the 10,000 per year number just because we were past the COVID bump. We were right into the normal processing years, so I expected USCIS numbers to be somewhere between five to seven thousand. As someone who is on the EB-2 queue with a priority date of May 2017, I am looking at, in the best-case scenario, about 20 to 35 years to get a Green Card through the EB-2 queue.
Exactly, and then even in this wide range, the lower number is not great because for 2018, you’re looking at 29 years. When 29 years is your best case scenario, there’s a lot that goes into it. One is, you are expected to maintain employment status for 29 years in H-1B, you can’t pursue other career paths because your I-140 is approved for a specific work level, so you need to maintain that work level. Then come the travel issues; you need to get your visa re-stamped each time you leave the U.S. That is a lot to do to make sure you’re in legal status in the United States for those 29 years.
Exactly. I started looking into these numbers in mid-2022, but as late 2022 rolled in, there were tech layoffs. That made me eager to find out what the other legal pathways were to a Green Card given that I had to wait about 20 years (at a minimum) to get my Green Card through the EB-2 queue. I was just researching these pathways, and to be honest, the only other way that I found was EB-5. I have friends who have done EB-1, but that required special skills and knowledge of a specific domain, and then they have to be leaders in this domain to pursue EB-1. Based on my profile, it made more sense to pursue the EB-5 line. That is the queue for Indian nationals, but there are also dedicated visa numbers for specific categories within EB-5.
Exactly. When I started looking into EB-5, one benefit that came with EB-5 was the ability to adjust status once you file, and then get an employment permit. That definitely takes some pressure off in terms of layoffs and the ability to easily switch jobs. EB-5 also allows for international travel with the advanced parole.
Finding an EB-5 Immigration Attorney and Filing Form I-526E
I spent most of 2022 researching EB-5 online. When I started with EB-5 research, just a simple Google search made it look like there were hundreds of EB-5 projects out there, but I had to spend some time understanding the specific immigration rules for EB-5 and trying to figure out what best suited my scenario—specifically, for someone who’s an Indian national, given that there’s also a queue in EB-5. I didn’t want to just go from one queue to another never-ending queue. So, the two main areas, the biggest decision-making areas as an EB-5 investor are finding the right immigration attorney and then finding the right regional center or project to work with. Coming back to that first point on trying to find the immigration attorney, I’ve had some experience with corporate immigration attorneys who have filed EB-2s for both my wife, who’s also on the EB-2 queue, and me, and for my friends. One thing I kind of took away from that experience is that I wanted to go with the smaller firm for the EB-5 immigration for a couple of reasons.
One, so they could dedicate their time to me and make sure they brought me along as a person who’s going through this immigration process, the application filing process; so I would get to understand what was happening, the rules that we needed to follow for EB-5. Going from an H-1B or an EB-2 queue to an EB-5 comes with its own set of rules. In the immigration attorney space, I was basically looking online trying to narrow it down to small firms who had been working in EB-5, and I also came across Anahita in one of your other webinars. I think it was for the Wohali project. She did catch our eye on that webinar, and then just looking at other client testimonials, one from Siddharth in your other video and then online. Also, just talking to her even before we signed on with her, she was able to walk us clearly through the EB-5 process. This definitely helped us pick the right attorney.
I had done some of the groundwork in late 2022, because by late 2022 we were pretty sure we were going to do EB-5 in this semester. I had started collecting the source of funds, and also, made sure that when the time came to sign onto a project we were ready to go. I guess when we met with Anahita, our goal was to help her understand our case and where we were in the process and what we were thinking. For us, we wanted to move really fast because we had a source of funds ready to go. We were almost narrowed down to a handful of projects that we were looking at. From the day we made contact, we were able to file within two weeks.
A couple of main things that I was looking out for is someone who had processed hundreds of applicants on EB-5 and who had good expertise in the EB-5 space. Also, someone who could help us understand the process and guide us through correcting the right set of documents, because there are a lot of documents. Also, if our attorney is on top of the game, this gives us more confidence in the filing that we’ll make to USCIS. These are some things I looked for when talking to multiple attorneys, specifically to avoid large firms. I don’t have anything against the large firms, but personally for our case, I wanted to make sure we had someone that we could really rely on and kind of hand-hold us throughout this case process; rather than just, we upload the source of funds documents and then days after they come back to us with, “Oh, here’s your filing.” That’s the main reason that we wanted to go with the smaller firm.
I think, Sam, you introduced us to Anahita and then she took time to understand our case. Your immigration attorney becomes your partner through this process. As an individual investor, you’re working with your immigration attorney, who’s representing you to make sure you have all the right set of documents in place. Just working with Anahita, she was able to understand our case, figure out what needed to be done in terms of the source of documents, proofs, etc. And then, her being in regular contact with us for those two weeks really helped speed up our filing process, because there are a lot of documents that go into the filing. I think ours is very close to over 6,000 pages. You would want an attorney who’s on top of their game and able to walk you through the filing, which definitely was our experience working with Anahita.
Selecting an EB-5 Project and Regional Center
Starting with the top list of all projects that I could find online, I wanted to go with regional centers who had at least 10 years of experience and had done this process end to end. From the day we file Form I-526 to the day that we remove the conditions from our Green Card and move on to a regular Green Card, it’s going to take us a long time. So, we are looking at projects or regional centers that have done that cycle at least once or multiple times, so that puts us at a 10-year experience period for a regional center. That narrowed it down to only a handful of regional centers. Then the project component of it, specifically for an Indian national: I had to look for a rural project just to avoid being stuck in the EB-5 queue.
Again, it’s a handful of projects. When we try to evaluate the projects, this is the hard part for an individual EB-5 investor. Personally, I have been a software engineer for the last 10 years and I don’t have the financial skills to evaluate the project thoroughly end to end. I was just trying to read through the subscription documents for each of those projects, trying to make sense of those projects, and seeing if this was a project I was comfortable with. I looked at the risk variable associated with each project. It’s kind of starting from the top with all EB-5 projects and narrowing it down to a handful of projects that fit our specific requirements.
Then, within those requirements, trying to make sense of the different projects and the variables that are associated with each project, and reading through these documents, we found that EB5AN’s and Kolter’s project, Twin Lakes, was definitely one of our top ones in the list. We researched more on this project by asking questions to Sam about things in the subscription agreement that I didn’t understand. These are some questions that I posed to all regional centers. Just trying to get more clarity, which helped me narrow it down to the Twin Lakes Project.
One is that it’s a real estate investment. Second, it is a single family home community where the development happens as the demands for new homes come up. It’s not a project where everything is completed, and then they go and look at the supply and demand equation. It is a project where the supply comes up as the demand comes up. That definitely got us interested, and the location definitely got it interested. I would say that looking at this project from the perspective of a normal person who didn’t have the financial means, definitely put this in the top. Then, digging in a little bit more on the project, seeing a senior loan that’s funded from a lender that has financial muscle and has done a good deal of scrutiny on the project. As an individual investor, I was not able to exercise the same level of scrutiny on the project.
Between projects, I found some variations as I was reading through the subscription agreements for different regional centers. There are projects that do construction in one go and then look at the sale of the property, like a condo or an apartment or renting out an apartment, versus projects like Twin Lakes. Twin Lakes is more of a single family home community that’s being built as they get rid of an existing inventory versus trying to build, let’s say, all 1,500 homes in one go. That definitely was more interesting for us and that fit with our risk profile compared to the other projects.
Exactly. Being a hotel or an apartment, it’s more about future projections: “This gets completed, and then the supply’s done and then the demand side is going to come into play,” versus here it’s more of “As we get rid of inventory, we end up building new homes.”
As I said, I am not a financial professional and I don’t have the skill sets to evaluate project documents in detail, so that’s where I feel like the senior loan definitely comes in play. This means that someone had already done the homework, scrutinized the project, and funded it. Honestly, this is the first EB-5 project that I’m ever looking at versus a bank who’s funding these projects as an everyday activity; they would have the right set of people to go and evaluate this project end to end. Just having that senior loan person be part of that equation was definitely important for me. Then, I asked, what kind of percentage is the senior loan in the project? Is that EB-5 funding a mandatory requirement needed to hit project completion or is it more of an extra supplement that’s added in along with the senior loan. The latter is the case with this project, which made us more comfortable in our risk variables for this project.
We came across a broad range of projects—from where they were still trying to find senior loans, sign on a senior loan entity—versus where they already had a senior loan, but they also had a mandatory requirement of “I need to hit X number of dollars from EB-5 investment for the project to succeed.” There were also projects where the senior loan percentage was not big enough, with high reliance on the EB-5 funding. Finally, there were projects where the EB-5 funding was good to have, but the project was already scrutinized and funded completely by the senior loan.
Yeah, that’s a good question. This is the part where there is an overlap between what the project provides for us as an immigration benefit versus what we file. We want a project that definitely meets the immigration requirements in terms of job creation. Again, a broad set of projects that we found were yet to be started or were in the early stages, versus projects where there was construction already, there were already sales happening, and the job creation conditions were met.
We were more comfortable with projects that were already in progress and had met the job requirements because, going through this journey of immigration for 10 years, we wanted to make sure we selected projects where the immigration benefit was already merl. This removes one of the risk components in the project, the immigration requirement, and then that leaves us just the fund requirement: the funds must be at risk, with no projects being able to guarantee a return of funds. That narrows it down to just focusing on the risk variables of, is the project going to be completed and what is the possibility of our funds being returned to us. Knowing that a project has met the immigration benefit was a crucial requirement for us.
As someone who's been through the EB-2 queue, to be honest, I never looked into the EB-2 numbers. How long between supply and demand, how long do we have given a priority date until the middle of last year? I didn't want to make the same mistake going into EB-5.
Just looking at the number of applicants per year from USCIS for EB-5 made me realize that there are countries where there's a high demand; or people from countries, specific countries, where there is high demand for EB-5 like India, and China. With the new law being introduced in 2022, the rural category just became live in the last six-ish months. That made me more confident to say that, “Even if there is a queue, there is also a specific set aside visa number for the rural category.” Knowing that this category had existed for less than a year made me more comfortable in signing up for rural projects, so that we could realize the immigration benefit of EB-5 sooner and not just get stuck in another queue for a couple of years.
Outside the project variables, regarding specific regional centers, I was looking at how easy they were to talk to, how much time were they willing to spend to try to educate us as potential investors into understanding the project variables. As I said, I'm not a financial professional who could understand every detail of the project, so I'm going to have a lot of questions. How much time is the regional center taking time to explain those variables to me to help me understand their project better? And just having those documents and being quick responding to my questions. Those are some of the variables.
Concluding Advice for EB-5 Investors
I would say the two main focuses should be finding the right immigration attorney, and second, finding the right project for your specific case and the risk variables you’re comfortable with as an individual investor. I think the first part is easier to do compared to the second part of finding the right set of projects. As you read through the different subscription arguments for each project, I would encourage an individual investor to ask clarifying questions to that regional center, compare variables between the different projects. There are projects that look really good on paper, but just ask clarifying questions on what the variables are that could make this project fail. How is the demand that’s been projected going to turn out to be true? Things like that will be super helpful to get more clarity on the project.
In terms of financial return, I would say I was pretty clear in understanding the USCIS requirement that the funds are to be at risk. Any project that promises a hundred percent of our funds, run away from that. By default, I filtered that out. In terms of the funds being at risk and the possibility of the funds coming back, you could fit that into a set of risk variables, like what is the probability this project is going to succeed? What is the supply side and the demand side? Are the projected numbers for this project going to stay true? And then, trying to get a comparison between the projects, which one’s more likely to succeed, and which one has a higher probability of returning the funds?
I would definitely recommend EB5AN, and specifically, things that were really great working with you guys include the detailed docs and agreements and your ability to be really quick in responses to my questions. Also, the educator videos on the channel as someone who was looking at EB-5 investment and trying to learn a lot more in the early stages; those videos definitely came helped me increase my knowledge on the whole EB-5 process.
Yes, definitely. Anahita is someone who takes the time to understand your specific case and then works with you throughout the process, so I would definitely recommend Anahita as an immigration attorney as well.
Of course. Happy to help.