Senators Propose Residency Visas for International Homebuyers

U.S. Senators Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, are working on legislation to grant residency visas to international homebuyers who purchase U.S. properties worth at least $500,000.

Under the bill, foreign buyers would be eligible for a residency visa after spending at least half a million dollars on a house, condo or townhouse, or buying a personal residence for at least $250,000 and supplementing this with a combination of investment properties to reach the $500,000 threshold.

These foreign investor residency visas would not qualify recipients to be employed in the United States, but they could file a separate application for a work permit.

“This is a way to create more demand without costing the federal government a nickel,” Sen. Schumer told the Wall Street Journal.

The hard-hit housing market has proven intractable even as other sectors of the economy have begun to recover, and leading economist Mark Zandi recently told a mortgage bankers conference that real estate stabilization could still be a year or more away. In this climate, with house prices low and the exchange rate favorable for many foreign investors, international homebuyers have become an important driver of sales.

A Vero Beach, Florida, real estate agent told the Wall Street Journal that foreign buyers accounted for about a third of all her sales in the past year. This reflects data from real estate firm Trulia, which announced that 31 percent of Florida’s home sales between March 2010 and March 2011 went to international buyers.

There would be no cap on the number of homebuyer investor visas, the Journal reported. Recently, business and academic leaders have called on the government to eliminate per-country caps on business-related green cards and education visas.