New homes being built near Springboro, Ohio, are for sale...

New homes being built near Springboro, Ohio, are for sale ( Oct. 12, 2011). Credit: AP Photo/Al Behrman

Buy a house, get a visa.

That's the gist of a clever plan offered by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) to inject some life into the sagging housing market.

The senators want to create a home ownership visa, renewable every three years, for foreigners willing to invest $500,000 cash in U.S. residential real estate. At least $250,000 would have to go into a single home, and they'd have to live in it at least 180 days a year -- making them subject to U.S. taxation. Participants could start their own business, but if they wanted to get a job they'd have to apply for a work visa. The home-buying visas would be in addition to any traditional visas already available, so rich foreigners wouldn't be displacing other immigrants. There would be no limit on the number of new home ownership visas.

The bipartisan plan, part of a larger bill aimed at encouraging foreign investment, has gained support from business, including home builders. Investor Warren Buffett was an early supporter of such a plan.

That's not surprising. The housing market never recovered from the financial crisis and ensuing recession. Since peaking in 2006, home prices are down 29 percent, and 22.5 percent of homeowners with mortgages owe more than their house is worth.

Bringing more affluent foreigners to this country -- and making them buy homes -- may not cure the nation's real estate collapse, but it might well help. And it certainly can't hurt.


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