Building ‘little Houston’: McAllen and Houston EB-5 programs announce alliance

MGN Online

McALLEN — For foreign investors interested in becoming United States citizens, the EB-5 immigrant investor program offers that opportunity, at the right price.

Multiple foreign investors put down $500,000 to help build the Cambria Hotel next to the McAllen Convention Center, the site of Wednesday’s announcement of an alliance between McAllen’s EB-5 program and Houston’s.

“We utilized the EB-5 program as it was intended — an economic development tool that offers an opportunity for citizenship,” said McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez, who is also the president of McAllen’s EB-5 Program. “This partnership is a big win for us here in McAllen, for our partners and for the United States, as we welcome the benefit of foreign investors.”

Wednesday’s announcement of the partnership between McAllen and Houston was mostly just that, the two cities are seeking more collaboration. Houston’s EB-5 program was represented by Emilio Guzman on Wednesday, and Charles Foster, the longtime immigration attorney who used to work in the White House and is now based in Houston, was also on hand.

“We’re basically co-branding to promote our program here,” Guzman said, adding that investment opportunities between McAllen and Houston are endless.

The EB-5 program requires foreign investors to put down a $500,000 investment, and in return they are to receive U.S. citizenship. Guzman detailed various successful EB-5 projects in Houston, such as high-rise buildings.

“ There’s a lot of people that know about the EB-5, but there’s a lot of people who don’t exactly know the details of how it works,” Guzman said.

To overcome that, Guzman said he shows previous examples of the program working: “We have had a 100% success rate in all of the EB-5 cases for all the applications that we’ve had.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling discussed at Wednesday’s press conference a vibrancy between Houston and McAllen, which will be on display when McAllen holds “McAllen Day” in Monterrey, Mexico in November. The city is bringing the Houston EB-5 on the trip to introduce them to more people in the Mexican market who could potentially invest in Texas through the program.

McAllen is like a “little Houston,” Darling said, adding that there have “always been pro-business” city commissioners in McAllen.

In fact, McAllen city commissioners serve as the board for McAllen’s EB-5, making the program a city initiative, unlike Houston and other EB-5 programs. The program has had some hiccups in Houston, though, where in 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission settled a securities fraud case against three Houston real estate developers who were charged with improperly using $49.5 million they raised from Chinese investors for a project under the EB-5 program.

The developers told investors that their funds would be used exclusively for a large mixed-use real estate development EB-5 project, according to the Houston Chronicle. Another case in California in August found three people indicted on wire fraud and conspiracy charges in an EB-5 scam.

Officials in McAllen are hoping for a smooth and fruitful partnership with the Houston EB-5, after a brief period of dormancy, the officials were optimistic about the future.

“This collaboration serves Mexican citizens wanting opportunities to invest in our community — a location and place that they know and trust, while gaining citizenship, to see other investment opportunities,” Darling said.

mferman@themonitor.com