Home Sellers: If New Law Passes, Market to Foreign Buyers!

Under current U.S. immigration law, a citizen of another country could buy your house — but without a job or close family member, be unable to spend more than six months at a time there, assuming all they qualified for was a tourist visa. In fact, if the immigration officials got to suspecting that your buyer was trying to live in the U.S. as opposed to behaving like a tourist, they might deny even the tourist visa. That’s a pretty major deterrent to overseas home buyers.

But that could change under a new law proposed by Senators Charles Schumer and Mike Lee. As reported by Nick Timiraos in the Wall Street Journal (“Foreigners’ Sweetener: Buy House, Get a Visa), and Jim Puzzanghera and Lauren Beale in the L.A. Times, (“Bill would encourage foreigners to buy U.S. homes“),  the law would offer temporary residence visas to foreigners who spend at least $500,000 to buy houses in the United States. (Such visas aren’t the same as U.S. green cards, and wouldn’t lead to citizenship. Under the proposal, the visas would last three years, with possibilities of renewals.)

What if your house isn’t worth $500,000? A $250,000 purchase of one house to live in will apparently do it, combined with another $250,000 in other real estate investments. One of the biggest groups of buyers will probably be the Chinese — who should have no trouble finding single-family homes that cost at least $500,000 in their likely markets of California, Hawaii, and Texas.

The payment will have to be all cash, with no mortgage.

If you live in an area that might attract overseas buyers, supporting this bill might not be a bad idea. But don’t start counting your profits just yet.

Based on my past experience as an immigration lawyer, I can say that applying for visas is rarely a short or easy process. That’s especially true when the visa officers are being trained in a new law.  And no matter what grounds the person qualifies on, the immigration laws can deny entry based on “inadmissibility,” for example if your buyer has a past criminal conviction or a health problem that could endanger others.  Very likely the buyer would want to make the home sale closing contingent on successfully obtaining a visa, which could leave you waiting for such matters to get cleared up — or not.