The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are jointly issuing this Investor Alert to warn individual investors about fraudulent investment scams that exploit the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as "EB-5."
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's ("SEC") Office of Investor Education and Advocacy and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") are aware of investment scams targeting foreign nationals who seek to become permanent lawful U.S. residents through the Immigrant Investor Program ("EB-5"). In close coordination with USCIS, which administers the EB-5 program, the SEC has taken emergency enforcement action to stop allegedly fraudulent securities offerings made through EB-5.
The EB-5 program provides certain foreign investors who can demonstrate that their investments are creating jobs in this country, with a potential avenue to lawful permanent residency in the United States. Business owners apply to USCIS to be designated as "regional centers" for the EB-5 program. These regional centers offer investment opportunities in "new commercial enterprises" that may involve securities offerings. Through EB-5, a foreign investor who invests a certain amount of money that is placed at risk, and creates or preserves a minimum number of jobs in the United States, is eligible to apply for conditional lawful permanent residency. Toward the end of the two-year period of conditional residency, the foreign investor is eligible to apply to have the conditions on their lawful permanent residency removed, if he or she can establish that the job creation requirements have been met. Foreign investors who invest through EB-5, however, are not guaranteed a visa or to become lawful permanent residents of the United States. For more details, read the EB-5 Immigrant Investor section of USCIS's website at www.uscis.gov.
The fact that a business is designated as a regional center by USCIS does not mean that USCIS, the SEC, or any other government agency has approved the investments offered by the business, or has otherwise expressed a view on the quality of the investment. The SEC and USCIS are aware of attempts to misuse the EB-5 program as a means to carry out fraudulent securities offerings. In a recent case, SEC v. Marco A. Ramirez, et al., the SEC and USCIS worked together to stop an alleged investment scam in which the SEC claims that the defendants, including the USA Now regional center, falsely promised investors a 5% return on their investment and an opportunity to obtain an EB-5 visa. The promoters allegedly started soliciting investors before USCIS had designated the business as a regional center. The SEC alleged that while the defendants told investors their money would be held in escrow until USCIS approved the business as eligible for EB-5, the defendants misused investor funds for personal use such as funding their Cajun-themed restaurant. According to the SEC's complaint, the investors did not obtain even conditional visas as a result of their investments through the USA Now regional center.
In another case, SEC v. A Chicago Convention Center, et al., the SEC and USCIS coordinated to halt an alleged $156 million investment fraud. The SEC alleged that an individual and his companies used false and misleading information to solicit investors in the "World's First Zero Carbon Emission Platinum LEED certified" hotel and conference center in Chicago, including falsely claiming that the business had acquired all necessary building permits and that the project was backed by several major hotel chains. According to the SEC's complaint, the defendants promised investors that they would get back any administrative fees they paid for their investments if their EB-5 visa applications were denied. The defendants allegedly spent more than 90 percent of the administrative fees, including some for personal use, before USCIS adjudicated the visa applications.
As with any investment, it is important to research thoroughly any offering that purports to be affiliated with EB-5. Take these steps:
If your investment through EB-5 turns out to be in a fraudulent securities offering, you may lose both your money and your path to lawful permanent residency in the United States. Carefully vet any EB-5 offering before investing your money and your hope of becoming a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
USCIS and the SEC have in recent years built a strong partnership with an emphasis on fostering EB-5 program integrity. The two agencies coordinate on issues at the case-specific and programmatic levels, and have participated in joint public engagement events to raise awareness among EB-5 developers and investors as to these issues. This Investor Alert is another example of our coordinated efforts regarding EB-5 program integrity.
To report a possible securities fraud, ask a question, or report a problem concerning your investments, your investment account, or a financial professional, please visit http://www.sec.gov/complaint/select.shtml.
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The Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has provided this information as a service to investors. It is neither a legal interpretation nor a statement of SEC policy. If you have questions concerning the meaning or application of a particular law or rule, please consult with an attorney who specializes in securities law.