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Robert Reich writes: "America is having a fire sale. Why not sell wealthy foreigners the right to live here, too? That's the notion behind a bill introduced last week by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Democrat Senator Charles Schumer of New York: Stoke demand for American homes by allowing foreign nationals to buy them. In return, give foreigners the right to live here (although not work here)."

Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)

Selling the Right to Live in America

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

25 October 11


Why we shouldn't be selling the right to live in America.

merica is having a fire sale. Why not sell wealthy foreigners the right to live here, too?

That's the notion behind a bill introduced last week by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Democrat Senator Charles Schumer of New York: Stoke demand for American homes by allowing foreign nationals to buy them. In return, give foreigners the right to live here (although not work here).

The price? At least $500,000 cash. It could be one piece of real estate costing $500,000 or more, or several - one would have to be worth at least $250,000.

Presumably, this would help homeowners by boosting demand. "This is a way to create more demand without costing the federal government a nickel," Schumer told the Wall Street Journal.

And it would help the Street. Rather than have the big banks carry all those non-performing mortgage loans on their books or be forced to write them down, we'll just goose the housing market by selling off the right to live in America.

And the measure wouldn't allow in the world's riff-raff, because buyers would have to be rich enough to pay cash, and live here six months a year without working.

Realtors love it. Says Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, an online brokerage firm, "when property values sag and this is a desirable place to live, one of the simplest solutions is just to let more people in so they can buy the homes."

In Seattle, where Kelman lives, housing prices have slumped - as they have all over America. But Vancouver, Canada - just 140 miles to the north - is enjoying a housing boom because Canada allows foreigners to buy their way into Canada, just as the Lee-Schumer bill would do here.

But wait a minute.

Rich foreigner buyers may be a boon to American homeowners looking to sell, because those homeowners can't find Americans willing and able to fork over as much money as the sellers would like.

But what about American home buyers - many of them young, just entering the market - who would prefer low home prices that aren't bid upward by rich foreigners? It's not altogether obvious why we should favor American homeowners over American home buyers.

The visa-for-home swap proposal also comes at exactly the same time the nation is actively closing its doors to foreigners who aren't wealthy. Is this what America is all about?

Policy makers have tightened eligibility for entering the country legally. Student visas are harder to obtain. Family members are waiting years to become resident aliens. Green cards are in short supply.

Meanwhile, many states are doing whatever they can to make immigrants - mostly poor, but legal as well as illegal - feel unwelcome. For example, Alabama and Arizona allow police to demand "papers, please" from anyone they suspect may be undocumented (read: anyone who looks Hispanic). Alabama requires public schools to demand documentation from parents of all children in K-12 programs.

The nation is expelling record numbers of undocumented workers. Over the last year (from October 1, 2010 to October 31, 2011), almost 400,000 people were deported - the largest number in the history of the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. Annual deportations have increased 400 percent since 1996.

Some of these people committed criminal acts in the United States but a significant number simply overstayed their visas. Others had been in America for decades, working and raising their families here. Some had even been here legally but had no opportunity to defend themselves. A recent report by my colleagues at the Berkeley Law School notes that many immigrants "are pushed rapidly through the system without appropriate checks or opportunities to challenge their detention and/or deportation."

If the Schumer-Lee bill becomes law, the easiest way for a foreigner to live in America will be to plunk down $500,000 for a piece of property.

Maybe we should rewrite Emma Lazarus's words on the Statue of Liberty:

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,

And gild our fading door mats.


Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on and iTunes. your social media marketing partner


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+17 # Buddha 2011-10-25 21:22
Strong Immigration is the one thing that makes America unique from any other nation on the earth, and it has always provided an influx of motivated workers and citizens to add to our social fabric. By its very definition and process, it is the most energetic, the dreamers, those who want a better life and are willing to work to achieve it, who make the effort to pick up and leave their homes to come to America. I have no problems with allowing the "rich" of other nations to come into our country, just as I have no problems with "poor" or "middle-class" hard workers to come into our country as well. Immigrants simply do not viscerally frighten me like they do for so many Americans. And this is from someone who's ancestors came to these shores in 1632!! If we are going to open up immigration for the "rich", then make their "visa fee" large, poor manual laborers get in for the cost they would normally pay a human smuggler "coyote". Use that money to build up our Social Insurance and Health Care systems.
+10 # pernsey 2011-10-25 23:01
Im thinking Im not liking this idea.
+13 # Joe Bob 2011-10-26 00:47
That's what we need more of, Wealthy Riff Raff. More 1%'ers.
Where do these senators have their heads ?
+14 # Progressive Patriot 2011-10-26 00:48
And on top of all these arguments, look at the facts behind the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Two of the attackers were good friends of a Saudi who bought a very expensive home in Florida, and it is likely that he provided aid to these two terrorists ... he suddenly moved back to Saudi Arabia, with his family, one week before 9/11, just walking away from the house in Florida.

Members of the bin Laden family were flown out of the country on a private charter while every commercial airliner in the country was still grounded ... without any scrutiny by the FBI before they departed. Did they also know some of the terrorists, and supply money to them?
+12 # edensasp 2011-10-26 01:16
Auctioning off voting privileges to foreign wealth under the guise of immigration is all this reads to me.

No Thanks!!
+6 # grouchy 2011-10-26 01:25
I believe something like this has been in operation for at least 20 years already! I worked tutoring ESL students and as an artist living just above the poverty level myself, discovered my immigrant students were all rather wealthy transplants from different countries and their financial status was important for qualification to come here. On the other hand, there were refugee groups also but they didn't often use tutoring services because they were working 2 or 3 low paying jobs and didn't have the time. All of both groups were, however, wonderful people and fun to work with!
+6 # balancingact 2011-10-26 03:11
What world view do our leaders uphold? What construct of moral philosophy do they serve? Is this the America that the majority of Americans actually want? Why are so many of the same politicians re-elected over and over and over again in light of their profound influence over: Wall Street and the banking system, the environment, the military budget, civil rights, poverty, prisons, foreclosures, bankruptcy, minimum wage, lack of health care insurance, soaring health care costs, escalating college tuition and college debt, spiraling inequality, GMO food production, oil companies ignoring climate change, coal companies leveling mountain tops, hydraulic fracturing, agribusiness planting genetically altered crops so more herbicides, pesticides, and patents can enrich chemical-biotec h companies...and super weeds.
Election reform? Heck no. Congress apparently adores campaigns propelled by corporate dollars, paid to corporate-owned media, all to convince us to elect them right back to D.C. so as to continue with business as usual.
Now that so many Americans are being priced out of a home, our leaders hope to search the globe for those rich enough to buy into their corporate-owned utopia! I thought feudalism was found wanting. I was wrong. It's the 21st Century and we are electing representatives who want it to make a true comeback! But, hey, at least we get a sticker.
+8 # 666 2011-10-26 05:47
Don't believe this is about selling homes & visas to rich foreigners. I seriously doubt INS rejects visa apps for foreign fat cats (e.g. Saudis & bin Ladens got exit clearances on 9/11 when all other flights were grounded - most owned US homes).

Will this help Big Banking clean out its portfolio of (illegally) foreclosed homes? See BOA pedal better ROIs to rich govts - China, Japan, India & Mid-East. They could buy T-bills (US public debt) AND boatloads of US homes (wall street debt/bad paper). "Buy 100, get 10 free!" With housing prices near rock bottom, actual risk is low for those with enormous cash reserves. A huge chunk of our taxes are now siphoned off to service debt owned by foreign states. Let's pay them rent too. How sad that the main US export is debt!

Imagine China becoming the biggest US slumlord over whom the tenants have no enforceable rights (sue China? right!)

Leave it to our corrupt congress (DEMS & GOP) to walmart-ize American home-ownership: maximizing china's ROI means filling houses, so rents drop (good), small investors are driven from housing market, more homes are consolidated by foreign investors (cf. small farmers vs. big Ag), more PAC money for congress to alter laws...

Yes, foreign govts could do it now. Maybe they need more incentive, something a few last-minute amendments could fix.
+3 # fredboy 2011-10-26 07:29
The red light is one, the whores have lined up, and all paying Johns are welcome...
+8 # RLF 2011-10-26 07:36
Leave it to Mr. Wall Street...Schume r has spent his time figuring out a way to help rich foreigners rather than one that helps the middle class that are losing the houses he wants to sell off. What a frigging genius! He is my senator...he will be hearing from me!
-4 # bobby t. 2011-10-26 11:34
Fredboy,when has it been any different? That redlight has been on for a very long time.(see what happened to Samson.)

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