President Hugo Chávez’s reelection could prompt a further exodus of Venezuelans to South Florida, leading more entrepreneurs to seek U.S. green cards in return for investments and more people to buy properties from Key Biscayne to Weston, real estate agents and immigration attorneys said Tuesday.
Realtors and attorneys interviewed by El Nuevo Herald said that in the aftermath of Chávez’s electoral triumph they have received calls and emails from clients in Venezuela indicating a growing interest in investing or buying properties in South Florida.
“Nothing surpasses fear as a cause for capital flight,” said Enrique García, a Key Biscayne council member and real estate agent whose clients include members of the growing Venezuelan community in South Florida.
García said that he was already preparing information kits to mail to prospective real estate clients in Caracas and other cities in Venezuela.
Emilio González, a former director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said he foresees an increase in the number of Venezuelan investors.
“I’m expecting it [interest] to pick up considerably,” said González, who works as a consultant to some programs featuring the EB-5 investor visa, popular among foreign entrepreneurs seeking to immigrate to the United States.
Randall Sidlosca, an immigration attorney at a prominent law firm in downtown Miami, said the fact that Chávez will be in power six more years has fueled an existing interest by Venezuelan entrepreneurs to come to the United States, primarily South Florida.
Sidlosca specializes in the EB-5 visa program, which gives foreigners who invest $500,000 in rural or high unemployment areas conditional two-year resident cards that become permanent if the investment creates at least 10 jobs.
“There were many people who reached out to us prior to the election with an interest in the EB-5 immigrant visa,” Sidlosca said.
“They were basically waiting for the results of the election in order to move forward with applying for the visa.”
President Hugo Chávez was reelected with 55.15 percent of the vote versus 44.25 percent for the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski. Since Chávez’s initial election in 1998, the number of Venezuelans who have immigrated, legally and illegally, to the United States has increased steadily. It is estimated that more than 200,000 Venezuelans live in the United States — 57 percent in South Florida — but that number could be higher because many are undocumented. The total number of Venezuelans who have received permanent residence has been growing year after year — from a little more than 5,000 in 2002 to more than 9,000 in 2011, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s office of immigration statistics.
“We expect an increase in Venezuelans looking for properties,” said Lynda Fernández, spokeswoman for the Miami Association of Realtors. “Every time there is a perception of political instability in any country, there’s an increase of potential international real estate clients.”
Fernández said Venezuelans already represent the highest percentage of international buyers in the real estate market in Miami. According to surveys among Realtors, Venezuelans represent 15 to 16 percent of foreign clients with a preference for properties in Miami, Weston and Doral. García said that Key Biscayne is also among the preferred destinations of Venezuelans.
“Every day the Venezuelan accent is more frequently heard on the island,” García said.
Although none of those interviewed wanted to predict the magnitude of the expected exodus, immigration attorneys who specialize in investor visas said that possibly dozens of Venezuelans could come to the United States within the next few weeks or months under the EB-5 visa program.
“We had a significant number, I’d say 10-12 people, contact us and many were family members that were interested in coming to the United States,” said Sidlosca, an attorney with the firm Arnstein & Lehr in Miami, “Statistics from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bolster the conclusion that Venezuelan visa usage in the EB-5 program has grown significantly over the last few years.”
The EB-5 visa is attractive for foreign entrepreneurs because it does not require having a close relative or a U.S. company willing to sponsor the immigrant, as required by conventional immigrant visas. Under the EB-5 program any foreigner without a criminal record or who is not a threat to national security and is willing to invest $500,000 from legitimate sources can seek a conditional visa.
“People in Venezuela are worried about the future,” said David Hart, another immigration attorney in Miami who co-founded the South Florida Regional Investment Center and specializes in EB-5 visas.