Friday, October 21, 2011

Senators Propose U.S. Visas for Alien Home Buyers with $500K in Cash Investment, Dictators and Drug Lords Lining Up Over There

WSJ reports that Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Mike Lee (R., Utah) are preparing to introduce a bipartisan bill that would give residence visas to foreigners who spend at least $500,000 to buy houses in the U.S.

According to WSJ, the proposed measure would offer visas to any foreigner making a cash investment of at least $500,000 on residential real-estate—a single-family house, condo or townhouse. Applicants can spend the entire amount on one house or spend as little as $250,000 on a residence and invest the rest in other residential real estate, which can be rented out.

But applicants may want to read the small print if this bill actually pass in Congress. More from WSJ:

Foreigners immigrating to the U.S. with the new visa wouldn't be able to work here unless they obtained a regular work visa through the normal process. They'd be allowed to bring a spouse and any children under the age of 18 but they wouldn't be able to stay in the country legally on the new visa once they sold their properties.

The provision would create visas that are separate from current programs so as to not displace anyone waiting for other visas. There would be no cap on the home-buyer visa program.

So, basically, the deep pockets foreigners with $500K can buy houses in the United States, and will be granted resident visas, but they're not allowed to work. Of course, with 500K, it's not like they're the kind you see who shows up to pick apples in Washington State or oranges in Florida.

We are obviously looking for independently wealthy foreigners who do not need to work while they enjoy their new houses in a real American neighborhood. I just renovated my 1910 house, maybe it's time to put this in the market? Or, I could sell my house to a foreigner and propose to house-sit my house except for the 180 days when the owners are supposed to live in it for U.S. tax purposes. Sounds like a deal?

Folks, have you considered the unintended consequences of this bill? It used to be that people who want to come here and can't get visas pay smugglers to sneak them in. I hear that the price go from $2,000 to name that price.  Now, under this proposed bill, people with $500K can come here with a resident visa, and we'll even roll out the red carpet.

Wanna guess who has that much cash floating around? Well, for starters, dictators, drug lords, drug traffickers and their girlfriends/boyfriends always have that much cash around, in case.

But, but ... that's not going to happen because they will be screened scrupulously, and they won't be able to take American jobs because working here without a separate permit would be illegal under this bill. Besides DHS/ICE will go after them. You know, like they've gone after other illegal aliens and overstays in this country. The same agency who has no idea when foreign visitors exit the country. Or not.

Oh, and who else has that kind of cash? The banks. Of course, the banks. Imagine this in Fox News: "I meant no harm, I just want to have my kids live in our home in America." If there is a rush in bank robberies, you know who to blame.

Below is an excerpt from the press release of the Senator Mike Lee, the honorable representative from Utah. Senator Lee might consider getting a new PR writer, this one absolutely flunks on basic details and it reflects badly on the boss:
The Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America Act (VISIT-USA Act) would remove bureaucratic red tape that stifles travel and investment in the U.S. For instance, the bill would reduce barriers for Canadian and Chinese visitors whose consumer spending provides a lift to the U.S. economy. The bill would also expedite priority visa applicants, introduce videoconferencing as a means to screening foreign nationals, and make major changes to visa procedures for U.S. allies in the fight against al Qaeda.

To confront the housing crisis, the legislation would provide, for the first time, a three-year residential visa for foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 in residential real estate in the United States. At least $250,000 must be spent on a primary residence where the visa holder will reside for at least 180 days out of the year while paying taxes to the U.S.  Applicants would still be subject to standard criminal and national security background checks and, once approved, would not be able to receive government benefits such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  The program would not serve as a path to citizenship for foreign nationals. Real estate analysts have said this proposal could lift demand for U.S. homes and help ease the housing crisis. Famed investor Warren Buffett has also supported the concept of enticing foreign homebuyers previously.
The Schumer-Lee bill has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Travel Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

A breakdown of the main provisions in the VISIT-USA Act, beyond the homebuyer visa provision, appears below:
  • Encourage Chinese Nationals to Travel to the U.S:  Currently, Chinese nationals must apply for a new U.S. visa every year while travelers from other countries can receive up to 10-year multiple entry visas. The bill would allow Chinese tourists access to 5-year multiple-entry visitor visas,  in order to eliminate this significant disincentive to travel to the United States. To ensure maximum security, stop terrorism, and address fraud concerns, Chinese tourists with 5-year visas will also be required to use the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). A recent report showed that the average Chinese visitor to the U.S. spends $6,000.
  • Expedite Priority Visitors: Currently, many people of means do not travel to the United States because of the waiting times for visas. The VISIT-USA Act will allow the State Department to charge an extra fee to expedite the processing of a U.S. passport just like the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service charges an extra fee to expedite the processing of a nonimmigrant visa. (HUH? *** see my note below)
  • Introduce Technology Into the U.S. Visa System: Applicants for a U.S. visa are often forced to make significant investments of time and money. The VISIT-USA Act authorizes the Secretary of State to conduct a videoconference pilot program as a method for conducting visa interviews of foreign national applicants. This would ensure that U.S. visitors spend their money inside the U.S. on our goods and not on going through red tape.
  • Encourage Canadian Tourism to the United States: Under current law, without a visa, Canadian citizens are not permitted to remain in the United States for longer than 180 days.  Many Canadians would remain in the United States for a longer period of time during periods where the weather is still cold if they had a legal ability to do so.  In addition, Canadians who currently return to Canada after 180 days are unable to take day-trips across the border to northern-border-states in America. The VISIT-USA Act creates a new “Canadian retiree visa” (non-immigrant visa) that allows Canadians who are: (1) over age 50 (with derivative benefits to a spouse and minor children); (2) who can show that they own a residence in the United States or have purchased rental or hotel accommodations in the United States for the duration of their stay; and (3) are not otherwise inadmissible – to have a visa that lasts 240 days, and is renewable every 3 years.
  • Encourage U.S. Travel During Low Peak Season: One of the greatest contributing factors to high visa demand is the summer travel season. Given that visa interview wait times typically lengthen during the summer months, this bill permits the State Department to lower visa application fees during off-peak seasons to give travelers the incentive to apply for visas when demand is lower.
  • Expedite Visa for Countries Aiding the U.S. in Fight Against Al Qaeda: The Visa Waiver program gives citizens of selected countries the ability to travel to the US under the ESTA program, rather than go through the more lengthy and complicated US Tourist Visa application process, but it’s not available to all U.S. allies.  The VISIT-USA Act amends the Immigration and Nationality Act regarding the visa waiver program to: (1) authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Secretary of State, to designate program countries; (2) adjust the criteria for visa refusal rates to permit entry into the program if a country has a low visa overstay rate; (3) set a maximum 3% visa overstay rate for program countries; and (4) revise probationary status and program termination provisions
  • Expediting Entry for Priority Visitors:  The global entry program is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. At the moment, U.S. Customs and Border Protection lacks the ability to add specific foreign nationals to the global-entry prescreening system if they are not nationals of one of the “participating countries” that the United States has a reciprocal agreement with.   This creates problems for certain high-priority visitors with decision-making capacity to bring important international events—such as the Olympics, the World Cup, conventions, etc.—to the United States.  This section would permit Customs and Border Protection to add important foreign dignitaries to the global entry program on a “case-by-case” basis if they are employed by an organization that maintains a strong working relationship with the United States and do not pose security risks.

The VISIT-USA Act represents the most significant reform of the U.S. immigration system in a generation, all the while adding a significant boost to our economy through increased foreign investment and tourism. Although a budget analysis of the proposal is not yet available, the senators said it was highly likely the package would significantly reduce the deficit through the increased tax revenues collected from new visa holders living in the U.S.

I have yet to read the text of the bill but I already feel for our consular officers working at over 250 consular posts.  Videoconferencing, also coming soon to the a virtual interview booth near you.

Might this be a good time to suggest that the State Department invite Senators Schumer and Lee to go through ConGen training and deploy both under temporary consular commissions for at least 180 days at a visa issuing post? Preferably to Guangzhou, Manila, Lagos and Mexico City conducting visa interviews?

It's a fun gig, you guys!  This would help you both understand the process, as well as teach you that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service process nonimmigrant visa petitions; but nonimmigrant visas are issued by the Department of State.  I know it's confusing.  You will also learn that the State Department already charges $60 for expedited processing of U.S. passports (*** so no need to add that in the new bill unless you're upping the tab).  They'll teach you how to read faces and how to administer a smell test to determine who is telling a fib; a great trick by the way to bring back to Congress.  During training you'll pretend like you're in a different country, and then you will actually be shipped to a different country where all your new acquaintances become your best friends as you see them in front of your visa interview window. You won't regret it ever or forget the experience for that matter! And it will help make you become better legislators especially on this interesting and exciting field of immigration.

Try it, try it ... you will like it, you see.

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