Visa for Homebuyers Proposed

A new bill seeks to give a temporary “residential visa” to foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 in residential real estate in the United States.

This visa is part of a package of immigration measures co-authored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Last week they introduced the Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America (VISIT USA) Act. It aims to promote foreign travel to the United States and alleviate the housing crisis by increasing the demand for residential houses.

The bill gives a three-year residential visa to foreign nationals who make a $500,000 cash investment in a single-family house, or spend $250,000 on a primary residence and invest the remaining $250,000 on properties to be rented out.

The purchase must be made in cash and no mortgage or home equity loan would be allowed. The buyer must also live in the home for at least 180 days each year. A foreigner may bring a spouse and children under 18 years old, but they would not be eligible for Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security benefits. They also lose eligibility for the visa if the property is sold.

The residential visa is not a work permit and the foreigners would need to apply for a work visa in order to work in the U.S. It also does not lead to citizenship.

The bill’s other proposals are likewise intended to bring in travelers more easily. For instance, Chinese nationals are encouraged to travel more frequently to the U.S. by giving them 5-year multiple entry visas. Currently, they are required to apply for a U.S. visa annually.

Retiring Canadians also stand to benefit from the bill’s “Canadian retiree visa” which would allow them to have a visa valid for 240 days and renewable every 3 years if they meet certain requirements. Under current rules, Canadian citizens may only stay a maximum of 180 days.

Premium processing, which for an extra charge provides faster processing of visa applications, would also be extended to B-1/B2 visa applications. The bill also proposes lower visa application fees for travel during off-peak seasons to encourage travel during these times.

The proposal was welcomed by many groups in the real estate and travel industries. If passed into law, the proposal is expected to boost residential home sales in many states including California, Florida, Texas and New York. Even tycoon Warren Buffett is said to have expressed support for an immigration policy that encourages rich immigrants to buy homes in the U.S.

A visa option which is similarly designed to attract investments but which has been in place for quite some time is the EB-5 category. Under the regular EB-5 program, one may get a green card through an investment of $1 million (or $500,000 in rural or high unemployment areas) in a new enterprise that directly creates 10 jobs. Under the EB-5 pilot program, the $500,000 investment must be made in a designated Regional Center which creates at least 10 jobs even indirectly.

Unlike the proposed residential visa, the EB-5 category grants conditional permanent resident status to the investor and his dependents. The condition may be removed by filing a petition to remove the condition within 90 days before the second anniversary of his admission as conditional resident. He will have to demonstrate that the requirements of the investor program have been satisfied.

The investor in a designated Regional Center is not required to manage his investment on a daily basis as he can just be a limited partner.