The news in the Wall Street Journal on 20 October, under the header “Foreigners' Sweetener: Buy House, Get a Visa,” came as something of a surprise. The body of the piece said two senators, New York’s Charles Schumer (D) and Utah’s Mike Lee (R), were preparing to introduce a bill that would grant foreigners who spend $500,000 or more on a residential property a visa effective for as long as you own such property. These lucky people would be allowed to bring along spouses and any children under the age of 18. There would be no cap on the number of visas granted.
The reason behind the proposed bill was contained in the following paragraph of the WSJ article: “Foreigners have accounted for a growing share of home purchases in South Florida, Southern California, Arizona and other hard-hit markets. Chinese and Canadian buyers, among others, are taking advantage not only of big declines in US home prices and reduced competition from Americans, but also of favorable foreign exchange rates.” Without such buyers, said real-estate agents interviewed for the piece, the US housing market would be stagnant. It was hoped by a mortgage-bond pioneer that the bill would help turn around general buyer psychology.
But the 669 comments under the article have shown there are some Americans who don’t think the bill is such an excellent idea. Like Mike Scott, who wrote: “For all the talk about ‘affordable housing’ that comes from the Democratic party, they sure like to implement policies that make housing about as unaffordable as possible. Price drops are great. We should be embracing them and allowing the poor and middle-class to get deals that won't enslave them to debt for years.”
The same argument was made by Robert Reich, who served as secretary of labour under Clinton, in an opinion piece published in the Christian Science Monitor on 25 October. Still, it wasn’t the affect of the bill on first-time and middle-class American homebuyers that Reich was lamenting as much as the hypocrisy contained in its objectives. The visa-for-home swap proposal, he wrote, comes at a time when the nation is making it harder than ever for foreigners of modest means to get a visa. With student visas and green cards in increasingly limited supply, and states like Alabama and Arizona demanding “papers” from anyone they regard as suspicious (that is, of Latin American origin), the system is effectively deporting 400% more people a year than 15 years ago.
Reich suggested, as a consequence, that the immortal words of Emma Lazarus beneath the Statue of Liberty should be changed to read: “Give us your richest, fattest cats/ Your highest net-worth, seeking pleasure domes/ Your wealthy heirs and pampered brats./ Send these, with a half-million to buy our homes.”