WASHINGTON — Talk about trying to kill two birds with a single stone.
A idea that emerged in Congress on Thursday would grant special visas to foreigners who buy a home in the United States.
For Las Vegas, the concept could attract more international visitors — a goal of the hotel-casinos — while attacking a huge backlog of foreclosed properties, according to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who endorsed the concept.
The proposal is in a bill by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mike Lee, R-Utah. It would grant three-year residence visas to homebuyers, their spouses and minor children if they spend at least half a million dollars — cash deals only — on housing and live here half the year.
“Many people want to come and live in the United States,” Schumer said. “This will not allow them to become citizens or to vote or get benefits in any way, but they will be spending money and paying taxes. And the most important thing is they will sop up the extra supply of homes we have right now.”
The incentive would be similar to the EB-5 visa offered foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 to create jobs through new businesses or in high unemployment areas.
The United States already is an attractive market for foreign home buyers and recent immigrants, according to the National Association of Realtors. They accounted for a “significant” $82 billion in existing homes sales between March 2010 and March 2011, up from $66 million a year earlier, the association said in a May study.
China, Canada, Mexico, India and the United Kingdom were reported as having the most buyers, the Realtors said. Florida, Texas, California and Arizona account for 58 percent of sales. About 2 percent of sales were in Nevada.
Under the Schumer-Lee bill, a buyer would need to spend at least $500,000 on a single-family home, or at least $250,000 on a home and at least another $250,000 on a home to rent. Buyers would have to live in the home at least 180 days each year, and would need to show proof of continued residence to renew the visa.
“Senator Reid welcomes this plan that could help ease Nevada’s housing crisis,” spokesman Zac Petkanas said. “Nevada is already a top travel destination for foreign tourists and this proposal could attract more visitors to invest in our state.”
The homebuying plan is part of a larger foreign travel bill that seeks to attract more tourists from Canada and China. It also would speed the issuance of visas by allowing the State Department to interview potential visitors through videoconferencing, and to lower visitor fees during the winter off-peak travel season.
Some provisions are similar legislation introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and backed by the Nevada tourism industry.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org