Buy A House, Get A Visa!

by Geraldo Rivera | Nov 18, 2011

It is not exactly an invitation to "the wretched refuse of your teeming shore" or the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Nor should "the homeless," and "tempest-tossed" also mentioned in Emma Lazarus' epic Statue of Liberty poem feel welcome.

But a new bipartisan bill proposing an immigrant visa to those willing to buy homes in America deserves consideration. That is, if our do nothing Congress ever gets around to considering anything more meaningful than the reaffirmation of "In God We Trust" as our national motto.

Start with the obvious: the housing bust is having a devastating impact on the baby boomer generation. That demographic tsunami born between 1946 and 1964 has started to retire. From New England to the Rust and Farm Belts, they grew up and old believing that when the time came, they would be able to sell the homes that represented their largest investment, and enjoy their golden years someplace warm like Florida or Arizona.

Now millions of boomers are stuck in place, unable to sell homes that are often worth less than the amount owed on the mortgage. As a result, fewer Americans are moving than at any time since the Census Bureau started keeping track back in 1948. Real estate values in the Sun Belt states have been crushed by lack of demand from snow birds.

So why not heat up the housing market by selling real estate for cash to foreigners?

This is not an invitation to the typical undocumented immigrant from Mexico or Guatemala who crosses the southern border with his meager life savings hidden in his socks. We tried that during the glory days of the housing bubble. In 2005, lethal subprime mortgages to Latino families with questionable credit soared 169% according to a Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council report. Companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Countrywide Financial and Ameriquest all jumped on the bandwagon, throwing money at naïve buyers, legal and illegal, who didn't have a pot to pee in.

A common real estate advertisement offering financing in Spanish-language media read, "¡Sin verificación de ingresos! ¡Sin verificación de documentos!" (No income verification! No verification of immigration documents!) Small wonder 40% of all toxic, sub-prime mortgages nationwide are held by Hispanics.

No, this new bill proposed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) is not for the poor. It is aimed at the relatively prosperous who want to live in the United States and can afford to buy real estate for real money. Those willing to invest at least $500,000 to buy a home or homes in the United States would qualify for a new visa category. It would not allow work, but would allow permanent residence.

Admittedly, this proposed program is too pricey to solve either the housing or immigration crises. There aren't enough Mexicans or even Chinese for that matter with a half million in cash to spend on real estate. But according to the Wall Street Journal, foreigners already make up a growing share of homes purchased recently in South Florida, Southern California, Arizona and other hard-hit real-estate markets. Viewed from abroad, our prices are right, and we need their business. I believe immigrant vigor and energy are a tonic for a lot of what ails this country. Along with a more compassionate, reasonable and practical attitude toward the typical farmhand, child care provider, lawn cutter, dish washer and factory worker immigrant, let's give the foreign doctors, lawyers, engineers and others with some dough the chance to invest in this land of opportunity.

More importantly, this is an example of one small component of what modern, comprehensive immigration reform would entail; if only the president and Congress had the courage to tackle the incendiary issue. This proposal makes clear immigration reform would touch the lives of every American, including those retiring baby boomers stuck in the snow.

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