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Buy a house, get a visa

By Polyana da Costa ·
Friday, October 21, 2011
Posted: 11 am ET

How bad is the housing market in the United States? So bad, that two senators -- a Republican and a Democrat -- have joined forces to push a bill that would offer visas to foreigners who spend $500,000 buying homes in the States.

The bill was co-authored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R- Utah) and includes several other immigration measures to attract more foreign capital into the United States, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The concept of giving out visas in exchange for foreign cash investments isn't anything new, but none of the programs currently available target homebuying. One existing program allows foreigners to get U.S. residence visas if they invest a certain amount in a job-creating ventures in the United States. The required minimum investment varies from $500,000 to $1 million, depending on the area. Commercial and residential developers have been all over these programs to fund construction of projects since lenders tightened their belts after the real estate crash.

But many foreigners, who are eager to invest in the States, hesitate to put their money in a project or a business venture that may or may not work. If these foreign investors had the opportunity to buy homes instead, certain U.S. markets would be flooded with buyers. Under this bill, the foreign investors would be allowed to buy vacation homes and investment properties. But they would not be allowed to work without getting a standard work visa. The investors would be required to spend at least half of the $500,000 in a home where they would reside for a minimum of six months.

Foreigners spent $82 billion buying homes in the United States in the 12 months ending in March, according to the National Association of Realtors. That's $16 billion more than in the previous year.  The weak dollar and low real estate prices have been the main drivers behind the increase in sales. If you were to throw in a visa on top of those, it would certainly entice many other foreign investors.

There's no question this would help spur home sales, but the concept of having a huge wave of foreign landlords in the United States concerns me a little.

What do you think? Should the States offer visas to foreign homebuyers?

Follow me on Twitter @Polyanad.

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December 19, 2011 at 8:57 am

very interesting offer...very gladdening

Full Name
December 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm

There are much better places to live if you have 500,000 cash only to spend in a house. To put this amount of money into perspective, it is enough to say that the vast majority of Americans will never see this this value in their entire life. The time has come for foreigners to say to Uncle Sam - Who do you think you are?

November 30, 2011 at 2:15 am

I don't think that is a bad idea! But maybe raise investment capital to 1,000,000 instead of 500,000 which means anyone spending 1,000,000 to buy houses and wana greencard can buy 2 houses with half million each at least. but need to keep self resident with purchase price 500,000 above to qualify. This will make sure investor are really for investing U.S and not here to get jobs once recieved greencard.

November 12, 2011 at 5:12 pm

US should declare the country a bankrupt one before it approves this. It's a shame!

October 26, 2011 at 12:43 am

This is a total sell out of the American people.

It will keep housing prices high or make them go higher, rewards foreigners, and penalizes the rest of us with higher home prices.

This is a lame excuse for an idea.

You know who likes this idea? The Banks, builders, and realtors. It sucks for the rest of us.

Vote them all out!!

October 24, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Excellent idea

October 22, 2011 at 8:26 am

Do you really think that any foreigner with 500K to spend on a house, really cares about having a visa in the US?

October 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm

There is already a investor visa program in place. All you need is invest 500K in a business that creates 10 jobs and you get a green card. You can work yourself. Why would anybody invest 500K to buy a house and cant work and with no path to green card. This itself it a non-starter.This scheme will only attract criminals who have siphoned off with black money in developing countries and are facing prosecution.

October 21, 2011 at 1:56 pm

@economist: Why would that be redirected with the proposed new visa? This proposed visa won't lead the path to a green card, either. It's meant for wealthy people who want to live here without having to work. So in a way you are correct but it's not the money from people who work here on work visas that gets redirected into the US economy.

October 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Excellent idea, US gives out 65000 work visa's a year, which gets renewed every three years. 90% of work visa holder decide to Live in USA. These 90% of work visa holders have earnings between $80000 to $100000 but they dont invest here due to lack of resident ship (Green card). The money is getting invested in their home countries. If this bill passes the investment money will get redirected not just in housing investments but we can also see small businesses comming up.