No place like home

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 February, 2012, 12:00am


As if getting a bigger bang for your buck wasn't enough of a draw, Chinese investors now have another reason to buy residential property in the United States: a much-coveted green card.

In a bill that is wending its way through the political system, two US senators are proposing that foreigners who spend at least US$500,000 on housing in the country receive automatic residency. The primary target: Chinese investors, known to be among the largest foreign purchasers of US property, specifically in states such as California and New York.

The bill, dubbed the VISIT-USA Act, is in its early stages after being introduced last October, and has four more steps to go before being signed into law. So far, the bill has received mostly enthusiastic support from Democrats and Republicans alike - a rarity in this increasingly contentious campaign year.

It's hard to fault the logic of the bill. The US property market remains in the doldrums. Cash-rich foreign buyers are swooping down on homes and apartments that are a steal compared with prices back home.

Got US$500,000 to spend on a home? A random search in the Los Angeles area will throw up options such as a four-bedroom, 3,200 sq ft house in the trendy Los Feliz area. In Hong Kong, that sum would secure a 450 sq ft flat in Wan Chai.

Of course, if passed, the bill will come with strings attached. Those wanting to take advantage of it will have to spend at least 180 days of the year in the US and pay those pesky taxes.

Still, many people are pushing for it - not least of them immigration lawyers. One such lawyer from Los Angeles told me the bill would lead to a huge spike in her business. Most of her clients aren't exactly short of money but they have had to find another way into the US, such as marriage, a job or a student visa.

Brokers could finally take down those 'For Sale' signs, communities will be flush with cash, and foreigners longing for a permanent foothold on US soil could get one. And all for half a million dollars. What a steal.