Friday, October 28, 2011

Give Us Your Cash, Your Yearning for Visas

Have you heard?

Two US Senators are hawking half-million-dollar homes, using the lure of free visas as a gimmick.

No, not Visa, the credit card.  US immigration visas.

They want to sell foreigners free access to the United States for a minimum of $500,000 a pop.

Sound ridiculous? Do you suppose there must be something in the details that will make it less ridiculous?  I hoped so, too. But details don't really help here.

The house has to be a minimum of half a million dollars, yes, or a combination of properties equalling that sum, with at least one property worth $250,000.  And they've gotta pay cash; no mortgages.  If and when the immigrants sell, they have to turn in their visa as well. The visa won't allow them to work here, but they'll have to live at least half of the year in the house they buy.

Charles Schumer, D-NY, one of the co-sponsors of the measure along with Mike Lee, R-UT, says it is a great way to spur our stagnant real estate market "without costing the federal government a nickel."

But how does this plan really help anything?

Do we need to further weaken the value of an immigration visa to the United States by flaunting them to people who are already rich enough to invest in our housing market?

After all, at half a million dollars, there probably aren't too many foreigners out there who even need another visa; they probably already have a tourist or work visa with less inconvenient restrictions.

And how does masking a housing market that even the provision's sponsors agree is hamstrung by bad national economics solve what ails it? If the problem is the fact that Americans are too scared to invest any more in real estate, should senators be wallpapering that reality with free visas?

What about people who already live in the United States who have become upside-down in their homes through no fault of their own, or still can't even afford to purchase a home because many of our urban housing markets are still prohibitively expensive? Why give homeowners a break, when home seekers already here still can't break into the market? Granted, Shumer's right that giving away visas don't really cost anything dollar-wise, but what are he and Senator Lee giving away in terms of public trust?

And speaking of lubricating the real estate market, what about all of the bailout money that's gone to banks that has yet to trickle down into mortgage financing relief? If foreigners have to plunk down $500,000 cash, most of that will probably go directly to banks to pay off existing mortgages.

Okay, maybe now I'm seeing where Schumer and Lee are going with this thing!

Still, it's not like our Homeland Security folks need any more work to do, keeping tabs on foreigners who get into our country simply by buying an expensive house. It's not like overseas investors who are already active players in our current real estate market need any more incentives, either. They've already got a weak dollar, plenty of selection in prime vacation towns, and a seller's market working in their favor.

This is yet another example of the government trying to come up with a plan that doesn't fix anything and poses more risks than it resolves.

Meanwhile, taxpaying Americans are still waiting for everything that this same government has been promising them for the past three years: mortgage relief, accountability from bailed-out banks, and less government red tape in the homeownership process.

But then again, apparently this is America's new dream: wealthy opportunists speaking languages we won't necessarily understand, who actually won't live here or work.

Hmm... actually, that sounds a lot like the population of Washington, DC, doesn't it?
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