Real Estate Project Development - Using L-1 Visa Program to Encourage Foreign Investment

Foreign Real Estate Investment

The profitable and liquid United States real estate market is a major source of projects for foreign investors around the world. In 2017, the United States real estate market attracted more foreign investment than any other country in the the world, bringing in over $19.8 billion. Historically, most foreign investments typically have gone into commercial real estate projects, such as large office buildings. 2017 attracted over $10.6 billion in primary office markets and other high-quality commercial assets investments.  Of this investment, a significant portion was facilitated through the employment-based fifth preference category immigrant program (“EB-5”), which many foreign investors use to obtain permanent residence in the United States and project developers use to fund large projects.

Lately, foreign real estate investors are looking for alternative markets and incentives to invest in the US real estate market. For one, while the EB-5 program has may benefits, it is still vulnerable to failed projects, increases in costs, fraud, and long wait times for visas to become available for citizens of certain countries. Also, in practical terms, EB-5 projects often do not support investment into the secondary and tertiary US real estate markets because the projects do not meet the minimum investment amount. Increasingly, foreign real estate investors are seeking to diversify their portfolios by participating in these secondary and tertiary markets, such as multifamily, residential, and commercial properties in emerging neighborhoods which have lower costs of entry and higher potential yields on returns.

Queen City Immigration Law is reaching out to Real Estate Developers to provide an education about the usefulness and the effectiveness of the L-1 intra-company transfer visa to encourage foreign direct investment into their projects. Most Real Estate Developers are privy to the EB-5 program to fund their projects, but are weary of its cumbersome job creation and investment amount requirements. In addition, the EB-5 program is now subject to increased political scrutiny and extended time spent waiting for a visa to become available (which can be many years for citizens of certain countries). It is also one of the priorities for reform. Proposed changes include stricter targeted employment areas, raising direct investment amount to as much as $1,800,000, and limited opportunities for passive investment.

How Does the L-1 Visa Help?

Foreign investors who are already in the business of real estate development or management may be able to qualify for the L-1 intra-company transfer visa by setting up a subsidiary of their foreign business in the United States. The L-1 category enables a business entity to transfer an executive, manager or professional employee with specialized knowledge relating to the organization’s products, services, equipment, techniques, processes, or procedures from a foreign office to an office in the United States. This classification also enables a foreign company without operations in the United States to send an executive or manager to the United States with the purpose of establishing a new business. Foreign real estate investors can utilize this visa program to establish a subsidiary in the United States to find, acquire, and manage investment opportunities. An advantage over the EB-5 program is that there is no minimum amount required to be invested in the new American business.

Potential of L-1 Beneficiaries to provide to Real Estate Projects

  1. Free to invest in any project as a function of the business at any amount

  2. Ability to participate as prime or sub contractors to rehabilitation and/or development projects

  3. Ability to serve as property management to finish projects

  4. Opportunities to contract other professional services through their U.S. subsidiary.

L-1 Visa Requirements and Process

  1. Foreign business and the US business must have a qualifying relationship, such as parent and subsidiary or affiliates,

  2. Foreign entity must be engaged in the regular, systematic, and continuous provision of goods and/or services,

  3. Foreign business must continue to engage in this business after the L-1 employee is transferred to the United States to work for the US business.

How Does an Employee Qualify for the L-1 Visa?

For Managers and Executives:

  1. Must have a least one year of continuous employment with the foreign company within the three years immediately before transferring to the US business,

  2. Must be coming to the United States to assume a managerial or executive position with the US business, and have requisite experience and background to perform such a role.

For Specialized Knowledge Employees:

  1. `Must have specialized and/or advanced knowledge of the organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.

Benefits of the L-1 Visa

  1. Not subject to a quota,

  2. Lower requirements than the EB-5 program,

  3. Extendable up to 7 years,

  4. Dual intent (does not have to establish an intent of returning to one's country of residence),

  5. No labor certification requirement,

  6. Easy travel in a out of the United States.

How Can Foreign Investors Take Advantage of the L-1 Visa

The first step of applying for an L-1 Visa is setting up a U.S. subsidiary of a current real estate investment firm. We are able to assist our clients in this process by both servicing the necessary legal documentation and incubating the business at a physical location. It is necessary to obtain articles of incorporation, federal tax identification number, American bank account, and business documents to show a qualified connection between the foreign business and the new subsidiary in the United States. Furthermore, it is necessary to be able to demonstrate a suitable physical location for your business to be domiciled. For this purpose, Queen City Immigration Law has several locations that can serve as physical office space to house the US entity.

The next step is to form a business model that will produce enough income to support growth and responsibility role(s) that qualifies as an executive and a specialized knowledge employee. The business model of the US entity should compliment the parent company’s business overseas and be designed to grow the company and jobs of the subsidiary over the next 3-5 years. The United States interests in granting the L-1 visa is to promote the growth of American jobs. Thus, it will be necessary to present a business plan that outlines how the company will generate revenue and create jobs for United States citizens. For the purpose of real estate investment company, the role of the subsidiary can be of course to acquire real estate but also to provide contracting, property management, and other professional services.

The L-1 visa can be applied for while in the United States by changing status or outside of the United States through consular processing. L-1 petitions can be filed with a request for premium processing, which expedites the adjudication by requiring USCIS to take action within 15 calendar days.

Queen City Immigration Law is a full-service immigration law firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our firm focuses on the strategic needs of our clients - scientists, researchers, business owners. We also advocate for individuals and families all over the world.  For exceptional service, we have attorneys and staff with fluency in French, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Polish. For more information, do not hesitate to call our offices at 704-500-2075.