Brownstein Hyatt reaping benefits of immigrant investment visa program

May 5, 2013

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the Denver-based law firm that houses one of Washington’s fastest-growing lobby shops, was one of only two of the region’s 10 biggest firms to post revenue growth in 2012.

Part of that growth is tied to the firm’s “EB-5 team,” a group of lawyers and public policy experts spread across several cities, including Washington, where partners David Cohen and Al Mottur are leading lobbying efforts to make EB-5 visas a permanent federal program.

The EB-5 program, created by Congress in 1990, grants visas to foreign investors who sink at least $1 million — or $500,000 in high-unemployment or rural areas — into job creation efforts in the United States. In the past several years, the program has been used to help finance the construction of major hotels, resorts and projects in New York, California, Colorado and elsewhere. Between 2006 and 2012, the number of EB-5 visas granted to foreign investors and their families jumped to 7,641 from 802, according to the State Department.

As the EB-5 program has grown in prominence, so, too, has the interest from real estate investors and regional centers — federally-approved public or private entities, often set up by developers and entrepreneurs, that promote economic growth in their region — to hire lobbyists to preserve the program. Last September, the EB-5 program, which must be periodically reauthorized by Congress, was extended to Sept. 30, 2015. But the Senate’s version of the immigration reform bill would make EB-5 permanent. Brownstein Hyatt, a 45-year-old law firm that carved out an early niche in real estate development, is capitalizing on this effort.

“The EB-5 program is an interesting nexus of development finance, real estate law and immigration law,” Cohen said. “With our roots in transactional work and the strength of our political work here in D.C., it naturally came together and made sense. As the use of EB-5 program has taken off in the last few years, we were part of that because our core competencies align with what the requirements are for the program.”

Since last year, the firm has signed several new clients seeking to lobby for EB-5: Los Angeles real estate investment firm CIM Group, the Colorado Regional Center, the New York City Regional Center and Portland-based Pearl Hotel Investors. In the first three months of 2013 alone, the firm has earned $170,000 in lobbying fees from those four clients, according to reports filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.

The Washington office recently recruited two former high-ranking government officials that Mottur says adds to the firm’s immigration policy expertise. In late February, Barry Jackson, chief of staff to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and a senior aide to then-president George W. Bush, joined as a strategic adviser. He was followed by Elizabeth Maier, former legislative director for Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

The added firepower comes as the visa program continues to evolve to encompass more large-scale commercial projects.

“Today, in a tight capital market where major developers are still struggling to get financing and support from traditional sources of capital, EB-5 is becoming a very interesting opportunity to be part of a larger capital structure,” Cohen said.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for the Capital Business section of The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.
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