Hey, Foreign Investors: Buy a House, Get a Visa!

home soldIt's no secret that one of the few bright spots in the housing market today comes from all-cash buyers, many of whom are foreign investors. But a new bipartisan bill in the Senate aims to take this trend to its most logical (and controversial) end -- buy a house and you'll qualify for a resident visa in the U.S.

The bill, proposed by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), seeks to lure foreign buyers by offering a resident visa in exchange for a cash purchase of at least $500,000 on a single-family home, condo or townhouse, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The proposal takes its cue from the "EB-5" program (formally known as the Immigrant Investor Program), in which foreigners who invest in job-creating projects that are worth at least $500,000 in high-unemployment areas are granted green cards.

The bill is not, however, without its detractors. Richard Smith, CEO of Realogy, the parent company of realty heavies like ERA, Century 21 and Coldwell Banker, told The Wall Street Journal that it's an unnecessary measure -- even without the incentive, foreigners are already snapping up American property.

And he may be right. Of the $1.07 trillion spent on existing home sales between March 2010 and March 2011, about $41 billion changed hands thanks to foreign investors, according to the National Association of Realtors. Additionally, all-cash sales accounted for 30 percent of all purchases -- much of which is generated by foreign investors facing favorable exchange rates.

On the other hand, Sen. Schumer told the Journal, the proposal is a quick way to shore up demand for the country's housing overstock without costing the federal government anything. Until first-time homebuyers overcome the hurdles at the banks, and repeat buyers find ways to unload their current homes, increased sales to foreign investors may be the best way to absorb some of the nation's enormous inventory of homes.

The investor visas would not leapfrog current waiting lists, which should prevent wealthier foreigners from jumping ahead of other immigrants. The bill also requires investors to apply for a separate visa to work in the U.S, says the Journal.

Readers, what do you think? Would such a bill help or hurt the U.S. economy?

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