Exec. immigration action could boost Miami real estate market

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions designed to overhaul the immigration system could help boost the rate of real estate development in Miami, some experts say.

One of the president’s initiatives calls for modernizing and improving immigrant programs aimed at boosting inbound investment and entrepreneurship, said Helena Tetzeli, a corporate immigration attorney with Kurzban Kurzban Weinger Tetzeli and Pratt in Miami.

“Part of the overhaul will expand programs like the EB-5 visa or create similar programs,” Tetzeli said, referring to a visa that can lead to citizenship if a foreigner invests at least $500,000 in U.S.-approved real estate projects and creates at least 10 jobs here. South Florida developers are increasingly using the EB-5 program to help fund a new wave of residential and commercial development.

“Miami is the focus of foreign investment in Latin America and to a certain extent Europe as well,” said Miami real estate consultant David Dabby, with Dabby Group Advisors in Coral Gables. “So any [initiative] that brings more foreign investment to Miami is better for our economy.”

Panorama Tower rendering

Panorama Tower rendering

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The local demand for EB-5 visas is so great that the City of Miami recently created an EB-5 Regional Center for Foreign Investment in downtown Miami. One of the Miami developers to benefit from the new designation is Tibor Hollo, whose future 82-story tower in Miami’s Brickell Financial District has an estimated construction cost of more than $800 million.

The U.S. already reached its 10,000 EB-5 visa cap this past fiscal year for the first time ever, with a significant number of the visas going to Chinese investors, said Miami EB-5 attorney Luciana Zamith Fischer, of Zamith Fischer Law. That means that many applicants from Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, among other Latin American countries that typically lead foreign investment in South Florida, may have been unable to obtain the visas. By expanding the Miami program, developers like Hollo would benefit, Fischer said. She added that Brazilian investors were particularly interested in getting EB-5 visas.

“They are increasingly becoming more interested in obtaining U.S. residency through EB-5 visas,” said Fischer, who only last week flew to Brazil to give seminars on the EB-5 program.

A relatively recent EB-5 success story is the completion of the University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park near downtown Miami. The project’s developer, Wexford Science and Technology, raised $20 million in EB-5 foreign capital from 40 foreign investors, said Fischer, who was involved in that project.

But exactly how the expansion and creation of new immigrant programs will look is hard to tell at this point, immigration attorney Tetzelli said.

While the president provided a framework for the new policies, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and other agencies will be responsible for writing the regulations. Some initiatives will be implemented over the next several months and some will take longer, said Tetzelli.