Angel Brunner is the CEO and Founder of EB5 Capital, an $800 million commercial real estate firm with nearly 30 projects across the United States. The firm has attracted foreign investors from 70 countries around the world, including Nigeria. In this interview, she speaks about various immigration and investment opportunities EB5 Capital offers Nigerians. Hamid Ayodeji brings the excerpts:
For those who have not come across EB5 Capital, could you please describe the firm and its services?
For many years I worked in finance in Washington, D.C., and I noticed that many inner-city neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., which are largely populated by the Black community, were not being rebuilt due to the absence of institutional financing. When I discovered that the EB-5 Investor Immigrant Program was a vehicle to bring development and employment to many of these communities, I decided to start EB5 Capital. Today, more than a decade later, we have stayed true to our mission and have financed $800 million in diverse commercial real estate projects across the United States through the investment of nearly 1,600 foreign families from 70 countries, including Nigeria and other African countries. At its essence, EB5 Capital is a commercial real estate investment firm in Washington, DC that provides qualified investors from around the world with opportunities to invest in commercial real estate, obtain the U.S. permanent residency (Green Cards), as well as secondary passports, such as the Grenada Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program.
Considering some of the challenges that Black people face in America, why should an African investor invest in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program?
There is no country in the world without its challenges; certainly, we in the United States have ours. I often try to remind those who ask, that the US is a relatively young nation and is facing the growing pains of a country still working through the collateral damage of the “original sin” of chattel slavery. Our youth combined with our one-of-one economy, educational opportunities, and diversity of people gives me hope that we will overcome these challenges. They are also the very reasons why so many of our current and past clients still see the promise in the idea of the American Dream, even if we have yet to fully arrive.
How can prospective clients from Nigeria specifically benefit from investing in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program and Grenada Citizenship by Investment (CBI)?
Nigerian families who desire to relocate to the United States permanently can invest the required $900,000 investment amount and apply to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. Our team has noticed that the End SARS movement and COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest from Nigerian citizens considering foreign residency programs because of a desire to have a backup plan for their families. With the EB-5 visa, Nigerians can live and work anywhere in the US and qualify for lower tuition fees at some of the world’s best colleges and universities. For entrepreneurs, there are attractive business opportunities in the US, and of course, EB-5 also permits the investor to apply for US citizenship after five years. We are proud to have assisted numerous Nigerians in their efforts to relocate to the US through the EB-5 program. If EB-5 is not the right fit, but there is still a desire for a second passport, the Grenada CBI program is a less expensive alternative to EB-5. Starting at $150,000, the Grenada CBI provides applicants with a strong passport with visa-free travel to most of the world, including China. The processing time for Grenada citizenship is also fairly quick within three to four months. One of the most important reasons motivating Nigerian citizens to invest in the Grenadian passport is because Grenadian citizens have access to the E-2 Investor Treaty Visa, which gives them easy access to live and work in the United States.
What if someone aims to invest in real estate, but is not necessarily interested in US permanent residency or Grenadian citizenship?
Our team manages a private equity real estate fund, which is separate from our immigration offerings. Nigerians who are looking to diversify their assets and seek access to exclusive offerings in the US, while making market-rate returns, may be eligible for our private equity platform. Our fund structure can accommodate investors seeking to make a large investment or those who wish to start at the required $100,000 minimum. With the devaluation of the naira, investing in US real estate, especially multi-family apartments which historically perform well, is a method to hedge against inflation risk, protect, and grow capital.
Traditionally many Nigerians who invest in the Caribbean go through the St. Kitts program. How is the Grenada CBI different from St. Kitts?
Grenada is the only Caribbean country with a CBI program whose citizens are eligible to apply for the US E-2 visa. As mentioned earlier, the E-2 visa allows an investor to live and do business in the US and can generally be obtained within 3-4 months. The E-2 visa has an unlimited number of extensions and may be converted to an EB-5 Green Card over time. Grenada also offers visa free travel to China. We know St. Kitts traditionally is more popular in Nigeria, but the Grenada CBI program is a more complete package and just has less exposure in Nigeria.
Are there limits to the number of people or family members who can be included in the EB-5 and the Grenada CBI applications?
The EB-5 application includes the investor, his or her spouse, and children under the age of 21. The Grenada CBI application includes the investor, his or her spouse, unmarried children up to the age of 30, as well as the parents and unmarried siblings of the investor.
How successful has EB5 Capital been at running EB-5? Have there been any feats so far?
As every business owner knows, running a company always comes with its sets of challenges. But I am proud to say that through our selective approach and high standards, we have become one of the most successful players in the industry. In our 13 years doing EB-5, we have helped finance projects leading to more than $3.5 billion dollars in total development, we have maintained a 100 per cent project approval rate across our investments, and no investor has received a denial because of their project selection. It is a difficult record to match. In terms of our investor diversity, we have attracted investors from over 70 countries including Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa. We are also proud that we have Nigerian investors who have completed their full investment cycle, meaning that they have obtained their Green Cards and received their full investment back from us.
What happens if someone is denied a U.S. Green Card after making their EB-5 investment?
If an investor receives a denial on the Green Card application, it is likely that either the U.S. government determined that the $900,000 investment was not lawfully obtained, or that the project ran into some issues and did not create the necessary jobs. Those are two of the main reasons why a denial would occur. It is important that Nigerians work with experienced US immigration attorneys who understand how to document the ‘source and path’ of the $900,000. As for the project, working with a company who has financed and overseen the development of many past successful EB-5 projects is also key.
How was your company able to surpass $100 million in repayments to its EB-5 investors last year?
This was a major milestone last year. After an investor is a Green Card holder for two years, the investor is eligible to receive their original investment back, if the real estate project was successfully built and refinanced or sold. Across our portfolio, over $100 million has been repaid to our investors, and each of our project repayments occurred within the expected investment timeframe.