Immigration Needs of Foreign Buyers of U.S. Property
More cross-border capital flows into U.S. residential real estate than any other country in the world. Broadly speaking, buying property in America as a foreigner is usually done for investment or personal use, and their immigration needs will vary depending on which category they fall under.
Class One: Buying Investment Property in the USA
Many non-resident foreign buyers purchase U.S. property for investment to generate rental income, capital appreciation and/or for preservation of capital. These buyers often rely on local agents to identify and manage their U.S. property. Moreover, these buyers may not attend the closing; instead granting power of attorney to an agent to close for them.
For this class of buyers, access to their U.S. property (and corresponding immigration considerations) are a lesser concern. Some property investors may nonetheless want to visit the U.S. to investigate or view a target investment property. For these buyers, a B-1 non-immigrant visa or use of the Visa Waiver Program are the preferred options (see explanation of both below).
Class Two: Buying Property in America for Personal Use
The second class of people buying property in America as a foreigner are those who purchase U.S. property as vacation or second homes. In practice, these buyers generally gain admission to the U.S. either via the Visa Waiver Program or a B1/B2 visa.
Visa Waiver Program for Foreign Property Buyers
The program is straight-forward. It permits citizens of 38 qualifying countries to travel to the U.S. for pleasure or business purposes and to stay for up to 90 days without a visa (subject to restrictions). This would, for example, permit a citizen of a qualifying country to travel to the U.S. and inspect, purchase and stay in a home or property (subject to the restrictions noted above).
For citizens of qualifying countries that wish to stay longer than 90 days, a B1/B2 visa may be preferable (see below).
B1/B2 Visas for Foreign Investors
Buying property in America as a foreigner requires a visa. Citizens of non-qualifying countries will generally seek a non-immigrant B1, B2 or hybrid B1/B2 visa, which permit stays of up to 6 months, subject to extension for an additional 6 months in certain circumstances. These visas are valid for periods up to 10 years.
The B1 visa is for business and may include foreign buyers visiting the U.S to execute a sales contract for a property. The B2 visa is for individuals traveling to the U.S. for tourism or pleasure. The B1/B2 hybrid is the best option because it permits the visitor the flexibility to travel for business and for pleasure.
How Can Foreigners Apply for a B1/B2 Visa?
The process of applying for a non-immigrant B1 and/or B2 visa is relatively straight-forward. The applicant will submit a form DS-160 and attend an interview at their local U.S. consular office. To qualify, the foreign national has the burden of proof that he/she does not intend to immigrate to the U.S., but rather qualifies for a non-immigrant visa (See Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act).
More specially, the applicant buying property in America as a foreigner must demonstrate that he/she resides in their home country and does not intend to abandon that residence and immigrate to the U.S. To meet this burden of proof, applicants must show sufficient ties to their home country to ensure they will not over-stay their non-immigrant visa.
This is a question of fact and applicants can strengthen their case by stating facts that demonstrate strong ties to their home country, including that they lease or own a home, elderly parents or young children for which they are responsible, a stable job or business, etc.
Relevant documents to support these facts would include title deeds, leases, financial records, birth certificates, a letter from an employer or bank, etc. Alternative evidence applicants will return to their home country at the end of their stay (e.g., return ticket) and can financially support himself/herself during their stay in the U.S. is also helpful.
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