Visas could be offered to foreigners who buy homes in U.S.

A home is for sale in Glendale, Calif.

Jeremy Hobson: In Washington today, the Senate is introducing a new plan to help the housing market here in the U.S.. It involves opening the door for legal immigrants -- if they want to buy really pricey houses here.

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports.

Mitchell Hartman: "The Canadians are coming!"

"And the Chinese!"

What they're coming for is to invest in depressed American real estate. Sales of U.S. residential properties to foreign buyers are up 25 percent in the past year.

To encourage more of the same, the Senate bill would offer a new homebuyer visa. To get in, a foreign buyer would have to spend at least half a million dollars cash on an American home. The goal is to boost demand in the U.S. housing market.

Andy Xie, an economist in Shanghai, says it'll definitely attract more wealthy Chinese.

Andy Xie: They want to have a foreign home at a reasonable cost. And Chinese property prices are much higher than in the U.S.

Xie says they don't want to work here -- it's probably for their kids.

Xie: If you have a property in the U.S. your children can go to school there. It is a big deal.

U.S. housing experts say the new visa won't hurt, but point out foreign sales are still only a drop in the bucket in the overall U.S. real estate market.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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I don't know why this idea has taken so long to be proposed? The fact that Vancouver housing prices are more than double that of Seattle is not entirely due to different lending practices or comparative economic health of the two counties. To a great extent it is that Canada has a very attactive invester status immigration policy where foreigners can gain immigrant status through the purchase of real estate.

This is madness. The only worse suggestion I've heard is to "bulldoze" empty homes to artificially keep prices high.

All foreign investment will do is continue to make housing unaffordable, which in turn will make us a country of renters. Are we so selfish and corrupted by our "investment in our home" that we'd risk destroying our country for our children?

If you are underwater, I'm sorry, but you purchased at the wrong time. Don't sell out the country just because you want to justify your bad timing.

This policy of "Landed immigrants" has been in existence in Canada for a long time! This is a good idea for the U.S. as well!

Foreigners spending 500K or more on a house will boost the Housing industry, and there will be demand for new housing in that bracket. That will boost the other industries dependent on the construction industry. This is a good way to jumpstrart our sluggish economy without depending on higher manufacturing.

If you want to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, $500K is not much. We bought a 1950s 3BR/1BA fixer-upper in 2005, for $650K...but its underwater. In the Bay Area, $650K is in the mid-to-low end of the market. It's not in the "1%". We put $75K of our own savings (NOT a HELOC) into a remodel (kitchen and new bathroom). Unfortunately, all the foreclosures in the neighborhood are keeping the market price of our house below what we've invested into it. We welcome this legislation.

$500k is too much. I mean it's great if your goal is to help the top 1% but if they removed the price requirement altogether then it would be a wonderful idea and really help the areas with empty houses.

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