Controversy Builds Around Foreign Homeowner Bill

Bill is meant to help housing market according to lawmakers

Half a million bucks.

That's the price of a nice home in many areas. But a new bill would also give one group of home buyers a controversial bonus.

It is called the Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America Act. The bill would offer certain foreign home buyers a residential Visa to live in the United States, but they'd have to buy at least $500,000 of real estate, and pay for it in cash.

Foreigners buying homes is nothing new to San Diegan realtors.

With 20 years in the real estate industry McMillin agent Josie Ortiz said the inventory hasn't only changed, but so has her clientele.

“I have a lot of buyers from Tijuana, Ensenada, Mexicali,” said Ortiz. In the past year she has sold 15 homes to foreign investors. "Most of them are business owners, they're in the agricultural business or import export business.”  

Ortiz said most will pay for brand new homes entirely in cash, from $250,000 up to a million dollars. “Instead of putting their money in the stock market, they want to invest in a home in dollars,” adds Ortiz.

It’s a trend that has the Vista-USA Act working its way to Washington.

The bill would remove red tape for foreign investors while expediting priority Visa applicants, introduce video-conferencing to screen foreigners, and for the first time, issue them a 3-year residential Visa if they purchase at least $500,000 in residential real estate in cash.

Lawmakers said it would help our economy, but Immigration attorney Christopher Macaraeg disagreed.

"A Visa will at some point in time expire that's the key thing so that's why I don't really see whatever these politicians are proposing to be solutions,” Macaraeg said.

Still, it is a solution some say may have more incentive than most may think.

"These people are paying property taxes, they're paying home owner fees, they're hiring people to do their landscaping, they're hiring people to do improvements to their home so it's good for our economy,” Said Ortiz.

According to the Vista-USA Act, foreign home buyers would not be allowed to work in the U.S. or take out home-equity loans against their properties. They also would not receive government benefits such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

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