Buy a house, get a visa?

A bipartisan Senate bill would give foreigners who buy U.S. homes worth at least $500,000 a residence visa. Could this gambit kickstart the housing market?

Foreigners interested in staying in the U.S. can do so (for three years) if they buy real estate worth at least $500,000, according to a new proposal.
(Image credit: Kim Kulish/CORBIS)

Two senators — Republican Mike Lee and Democrat Charles Schumer — are proposing a novel way to give the housing market a boost. On Thursday, they introduced a bill that would give three-year residence visas — but not work visas — to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in homes in the U.S., provided they live in one at least six months a year. Is selling visas to anybody with a spare half million in the bank a smart, and fair, way to give the housing market a lift?

We should be aiding Americans, not selling visas: "I like the idea of giving incentives to real estate investors," says Diana Olick at CNBC, "but I'd rather see those incentives go to U.S. citizens, like having Fannie and Freddie open the credit gates to them." Such questions aside, this probably won't help the real estate market that much. Any foreigner this rich probably has enough vacation homes already.

"Buy a U.S. home, get a visa — but there's a catch"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

We should let them in and let them work: The problem with the bill is that it doesn't offer foreigners enough incentive to invest here, says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. We should lower the threshold, because "if we want immigrants purchasing our $500,000 McMansions," we should want them buying our $250,000 townhouses, too. And we should also offer these foreign professionals and entrepreneurs visas that let them work, so they can put both their money and their skills to use creating American jobs.

"Better to let immigrants buy homes than to demolish them"

This is too little, too late: Swapping visas for real estate investment makes sense, says Bruce Krasting at Business Insider, but it's not going to do much good now. If we had passed a law like this a few years ago, before the crash, "there would have been fewer defaults, smaller losses on housing values and significantly less red ink at Fannie and Freddie (now $140bn and counting)." But now our troubles run so deep this will barely budge home values.

"Why Schumer's 'visa for homes' stimulus is actually a great idea"

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.