As part of an ongoing series of profiles of our Medallion Partners, we recently had the chance to speak with immigration attorney Christian Triantaphyllis about his assessment of the current EB-5 market. Christian is an associate and EB-5 section lead at law firm Foster, LLP, where he concentrates his practice on business and investment immigration matters.
1. Christian, thanks for speaking with us. Could you describe what you do for our audience?
At my firm, Foster, LLP, we touch on all aspects of immigration — we have about 40 lawyers working on immigration cases at all times. I’m an attorney within the investment team.
I work primarily with foreign nationals around the world who are interested in immigrating to the US under the EB-5 program. I help do immigration “source of funds” analysis — basically, how investors have accumulated their wealth over time — and help them with their “source of funds” documents to prepare their petition to be filed with USCIS. I started out working with investors from Mexico, Nigeria, Brazil… and at the same time, I got to learn the market in China very well. Over time, I started traveling more to Asia, developing Foster’s client base.
I’ve also developed a busy compliance practice working with Regional Centers and EB-5 projects to make sure that they’re following the immigration laws and, essentially, helping with the tracking and info/document gathering that NES Financial is so familiar with.
2. What drew you to immigration law, and to EB-5 in particular?
Well, I’m the son of an immigrant. My father immigrated from Greece to go to college here, where he met my mother. I’ve always had an interest in all things international — in fact, that was a focus of our family, to strive to be global citizens.
When I was in college, and then moved on to law school, I had this idea of what it would mean to be an “international lawyer.” And that can mean two different things: There are areas of law where you work with people around the world, but you never really leave your desk in the US. And then there are other areas which demand that you actually visit your clients’ countries and work closely with them to determine their legal needs. I much prefer the latter.
Earlier in my career, I worked at a large law firm in different areas of finance and lending, which of course EB-5 overlaps with. So investor immigration law was a natural fit for me.
3. Do you have any advice for those considering an EB-5 investment? In your experience working with investors, what mistakes or misconceptions do you commonly see?
The most common misconception I see among new clients relates to the source of funds. They often have this preconceived notion about what’s required, thinking that if they have a bank loan, and the money’s there in their account, that will be good enough. And I break it to them that we’re going to have to dig deeper into that source, and then into the source of the source. Meaning that if you got the loan based on the value of your house — well, now we need to know how you were able to buy your house, and so on. That’s the initial shock for some investors unfamiliar with the program.
The second piece of advice I have is to look for a project that is set up and ready to use the EB-5 funds on a short timeline. Sometimes, I’ll come across clients who don’t want to see anything happen with their money for a while. They want extra assurance that they’ll get approvals on their petitions, and really get through the immigration process before most of their money is spent. And of course I understand that perspective — they don’t want their money spent if their immigration process is not going to be approved, so they feel it’s safer to take it slowly. But really, it’s crucial that the project start creating the jobs on behalf of the investor, sooner rather than later. If the money sits for too long, USCIS starts to question when, or if, the job creation will ever occur.
4. What is your opinion of the proposed reforms to the EB-5 program?
Overall, I understand a lot of the reasoning behind the changes that are being proposed. At the same time, there have been a lot of different proposals with different theories on how to use EB-5 appropriately. I’m interested in seeing what another draft looks like — for a while I was seeing draft after draft and then there was a lull, but the most recent draft was still missing some key components towards effective change to the program.
In terms of increased investment amount… I feel very lucky to be speaking with people around the world and saying, “Well, this is an opportunity for you to immigrate to the US.” And the $500,000 price point has really allowed more people out there to take advantage of the program and be able to immigrate based off their investment. A $500k investment may seem less advantageous than a $900k investment — but if, let’s say, a Regional Center is planning to raise $20 million of EB-5, they’re going to go out and raise that money regardless of the buy-in price. To me, $20 million being invested in the US is just as good under the $500,000 mark. And there’s just more awareness, more use of the program that way.
That being said, if increasing the investment amount is part of the process, that’s fine too. I think with that should come an increased number of visas… though that doesn’t seem likely at this point. The number of visas offered right now is restricting things, making use of the program more difficult for all players involved.
The current EB-5 backlog is playing with the way that the program was originally set up, and making it more difficult. Is this really what the program was supposed to do? It was supposed to hold on to investors’ money for many, many years? And projects were supposed to reuse the money again and again? Was that really the intention? The way the laws and regulations are written, they aren’t all in line with an increased backlog or retrogression for Chinese nationals, for instance.
Anyway, on the other side, I’m very much in favor of the proposed transparency and compliance measures. That makes everyone’s life easier.
5. On the subject of transparency and compliance, could you tell us about your history and experience working with NES Financial?
From an immigration law perspective, the value of what NES Financial provides is immense. We’re all trying to get to the I-829 stage of the process. We want the investor to be able to convert their conditional green card into a non-conditional green card, to complete their immigration process under EB-5. And at that stage it’s vital to have everything properly documented.
NES Financial has an excellent understanding of what’s needed to turn over to USCIS at every stage of the process, including for the I-829. They make sure the necessary information is compiled accurately, so that issuers are prepared when they have dozens of investors approaching their I-829 petitions.
Additionally, USCIS has started conducting more site visits, wanting to see documentation at all different stages of the process. If an issuer is working with NES Financial and they have everything organized and in order, then they’ll be in a much better position to work with the government during their site visits.
6. What should investors look for when choosing a law firm?
Right now, immigration is being looked at under a microscope, and the filing requirements are always changing in subtle ways. So working with an immigration firm that knows what they’re doing and has experience — and by that, I mean institutional knowledge of what USCIS is looking for — is so important. As a firm, at Foster, we’re able to keep up with what it is that USCIS and the government are looking for, and that can be a great help in moving investors through the EB-5 process.
For more information about Christian’s law firm, Foster, LLP, please visit their website: https://www.fosterglobal.com/
If you have a question for Christian, feel free to reach out to him directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the NES Financial Medallion Program, please visit our Medallion Program webpage.