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EB-5 Investor Program and Its $5 Billion Potential; Exploring The United Arab Emirates

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It was with great pleasure to be a part of a second collaborative effort with The Cleveland International Fund, (CIF) and Margaret W. Wong & Associates, and in my role as the Arabic Translator and Middle Eastern Business and Cultural Consultant at Margaret W. Wong & Associates, to join the Chief Executive Officer of CIF, Mr. Stephen Strnisha on March 1 – 4, 2018 with respect to these seminars.

The main and first seminar started on March 1, and from an article that appeared in the English Gulf Today, the headline carried the following, “EB-5 Plan Has Potential to raise $5b in US”:

Mr. Stephen Strnisha started his remarks by stating that, “with a potential 10,000 number of visas, the annual EB-5 program could generate $5 billion and up to 100,000 jobs for Americans per year. The current program expires on March 23, 2018 and might be reformed with a high investment ceiling. The United States Congress is likely to pass a long-term reauthorization of Employment Based (EB-5) Investor Immigration Program in March, before the program expires, that would reform and extend the popular immigration through investment program and help the U.S create more jobs”, a top official said.

“U.S offers up to 10,000 Green Cards per year under the EB-5 Investor Immigration Program to investors who inject $500,000 into job-creating projects through designated ‘Regional Centers’.  Under the program, an investor typically receives a modest economic return – in the form of interest or profit, but receives permanent residency in the United States and is able to receive its money back after 3-5 years”.

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“The condition for the investment program is that the project receiving the EB-5 funds will have to generate 10 jobs per investor utilizing in its financing”. The US Congress appears close to passing a long-term reauthorization of the EB-5 program with reforms by the March 23rd deadline”, Mr. Stephen Strnisha, a Board Officer of Invest in the USA (IIUSA), the EB-5 industry trade association, and Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland International Fund, (CIF) said in Dubai.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC investors, who have taken advantage of the EB-5 program in a big way, can now look at greater opportunities once the new reforms are passed by the US legislature”, Mr. Strnisha added.

“EB-5 enjoys bipartisan support from both Republicans and Democrats and the anticipated passage next month will demonstrate the U.S’s commitment to immigration through investment and provide for an improved program that foreign investors can have even more confidence in. With increased demand and a set limit of available visas per year, the current result is a program with a line of investors waiting to get their green cards upon initial approval by USCIS of I-526 visa applications”.

As a follow up to our seminars in Dubai, and on March 19, 2018 we received the following update from Mr. Strnisha about EB-5 status, that I believe can provide more insight into and feedback about EB-5 status in this context, “Congress has decided  not to include language in the Omnibus Spending bill scheduled to pass this Friday which would have extended the EB-5 program on a long-term basis and among other things increased the minimum investment amount to $925,000.  Our understanding is that the bill Congress passes this week will extend the program through September 30, 2018, but make no other changes. This means that the investment amount for all our open offerings, at this point OUC and Columbus, will remain at $500,000 for now.  The only thing that could increase the investment amount between now and September 30th would be the pending regulations previously discussed.  We do not know for certain if this regulation will be issued in its final form, but my strong hunch is that it will stay on the shelf and that we will operate within the current rules and investment levels through most if not all of the next six months.  I think this current situation may serve us well in terms of the prospects we have been working on together, (especially those not affected by retrogression, i.e. Chinese) since they will have more time to make their decision under existing rules”.

 

United Arab Emirates: Culture and Identification, History and Ethnic Relations, as well as Economic and Social stratifications:

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While I was attending the seminars, and looking at the rich diverse population attending the Press Conference on March 1, 2018, I could not help but start writing and delving into the beautiful mosaic of this diverse population that defines the country as a whole.  It is a great success story of a country that moved all of its infrastructure from a desert in the 1960s into an oasis of prosperity, technological,  economic and social and political progress, to the extent that some economists said about Dubai, “it is the richest city in the world, and one of the best places to do business, enjoy your time as a tourist, and excel in great ways”.

Having done my research about the country, and quoting our host, Mr. Saifur Rahman, Chief Executive Director of Pan Asian Group, who arranged the seminars for us and updated us about some important ancient and recent facts about the history and political and economic situation in Dubai and UAE as a whole:  “The United Arab Emirates, (UAE) consists of seven small emirates, which were united as a federal state on December 2, 1971.  Before the establishment of the oil economy in the early 1960s, two main orientation shaped traditional Emirates culture:  the nomadic desert-oriented Bedouins with small oasis farming within the broader context of the desert economy and culture, and the sea-oriented culture that revolved around pearling and sea trading. These subcultures were economically , politically, and socially interdependent ; creating common culture and social identity. The UAE shares significant aspects of its culture with the neighboring Arab countries and the larger Arab world”.

 Social Stratification/Ethnic Relations and composition:  It is important to notice that only 11.32% percent of UAE’s population are the native people of the country.  The rest are foreign-born immigrants and work-visa holders, who came from over 80 diverse ethnic groups that made up the total population of United Arab Emirates, estimated at 2,624,000 in 1997. Indians compose the highest ethnic population, at 27,15%, followed by the Pakistani population, amounting to 12.53%, and Bangladesh at 7.31%. With this simple population analysis, one can find a striking similarity between UAE and the US, and as some sociologists and U.S. political leaders call the United States, “a nation of immigrants”, this  could be easily said about UAE. Along the same ethic lines, recent statistics show that North East Ohio’s ethnic diversity alone stands at 118 different ethnic groups.

Emirates are known for their hospitality; they feel honored when receiving guests and socializing with friends and relatives. Guests are welcomed with coffee and fresh dates. Incense is passed around so that guests can catch the fragrance in their headwear.  With the Immigrant population, you can find a lot of ethnic restaurants offering a wide variety of ethnic foods, and fast-food restaurants have also become popular. As a gesture of warm welcoming and generosity, our host, Mr. Saifur Rahman, Chief Executive Officer of Pan Asian Group, and a native of Bangladesh himself, together with the business team he assembled,  have invited Mr. Strnisha and I to a Syrian restaurant called “the Bride of Damascus, to show great respect and appreciation for us, especially when they knew that I am a Syrian native.  It was a most heartfelt and warmest feeling when I met the Syrian owners of the restaurant, who made me feel as if I were with my family in my hometown in Syria.

History/Economy:  before 1971 the seven emirates were collectively known as the Trucial States, a name that originated from maritime agreements between the British and the leading Sheiks of the tribes inhabiting the southern coast between Qatar and Oman in the first half of the nineteenth century. The economic life of the UAE depended heavily on pearl diving and sea trading in the Gulf and trade routes, such as Iran and India.  Trade activities with east Africa led to the immigration of African labor forces as successful business people and laborers in the pearling industry in the late nineteenth century. The African and Iranian ethnic populations have been fully integrated as citizens.

Income is among the highest in the world, but there are large differences between the emirates, with Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah producing the most oil.  The other emirates have benefited from oil wealth through the federal welfare system and employment in state institutions.

 It is important to note that the rapid development of these sectors has reduced the nation’s dependence on oil.  In 1998, the gross domestic product was estimated at $45,590 million; 70% from the non-oil sector. The UAE is the third largest exporter of crude oil and gas in the Gulf. It is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, (OPEC).

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Political Life/Government:  The UAE has a federal government that is made up of several organs:  the president and his deputy, the Supreme Council, the cabinet, the Federal National Council, and an independent judiciary with a federal supreme court. The Supreme Council has both legislative and executive powers and includes the rulers of the seven emirates. The cabinet consists of ministers drawn mainly from the ruling families of the emirates. Another very impressive and exciting phenomenon, is to know that the UAE government has created a position for “The Minister of Happiness”, and to the nice surprise of many, a  young lady leader, whose main responsibility is to make sure that the UAE citizens are happy, and treated fairly and equally.  This is very rare to have such a position in the Gulf states and Arab world, especially headed by a young lady, and native of UAE.

Excursion/Safari in the desert:  Even before leaving for our business trip to UAE, an Excursion in the desert was planned for us by our host, Mr. Saifur Rahman, a native of Bangladesh who immigrated to UAE at a very young age.  Again, reflecting the UAE hospitality and generous spirit of respect and appreciation, we had a nice treat by having an excursion in the desert, rode the camel, and had a nice evening at the lovely night desert climate, and enjoyed a concert and Folk music and dance, as well as the diverse ethnic food that was so delicious and healthy; with a lot of vegetarians and domestic fresh fruits.

 

By George Koussa

Ethnic Consultant/Arabic Translator

Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC