Visa Programs Are Important for Real Estate, but Need Reforms to Stay Viable

While not apparent at first glance, many visa programs support real estate markets across the country. Visa holders purchase property, invest in property, keep other properties in good shape, provide capital for development and contribute to and stimulate property markets and economic development. However, these visas face challenges to remain viable: some are linked unfairly to the immigration debate, and, as a result, struggle to remain authorized by Congress; others are plagued by unfavorable media reports and carry with them the scent of corruption; still, others are beset by administrative backlogs and delays. Because of their wide-ranging and positive impacts on real estate, it is in the interest of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) to keep these programs authorized and viable, while also advocating for reforms to ensure their transparency and accountability.

SEASONAL WORKER VISAS The H-2B Seasonal Worker Visa program allows employers to hire workers to fill temporary (usually six months), non-agricultural jobs in the U.S. However, employers must first exhaust all avenues for hiring domestic workers before using the H-2B program. Resort areas in particular use the H-2B program for temporary jobs such as landscapers, lifeguards and wait staff. Legislation to reform the program has been introduced in Congress, but this is one of the programs that’s linked to the broader issue of immigration reform. As a result, movement on reforming the program is stalled. NAR supports reforms to the H-2B program that make the visas more transparent and accountable, offer temporary jobs to foreign workers without taking away opportunities from Americans and reduce regulatory burdens on employers.

INVESTMENT VISAS Through the EB-5 Investment Visa program, foreign investors are placed on a path to U.S. citizenship in exchange for investing at least $500,000 in a new U.S. business and creating at least 10 jobs. NAR supports this program because, many times, the investments provide capital that promotes economic development in mixed use and commercial real estate projects. In addition, jobs created through this economic activity also contribute to property ownership. The Regional Center Pilot Program, created under the EB-5 Program, helps match investors with projects. This important aspect of the EB-5 visa expires on Sept. 30, 2018. NAR supports reform legislation introduced in Congress that would more effectively track where the capital comes from, where it goes and whether or not jobs have been created. However, that bill is unlikely to pass prior to Sept. 30, so NAR supports a short-term program extension prior to its expiration.

GREEN CARD BACKLOG FOR LEGAL IMMIGRANTS Currently, there’s a disconnect between employment-based legal immigration visas and the number of legal immigrants that are allowed into the U.S. from other countries. While there’s no per-country limit to awarding employment-based visas based on skill, there’s an arbitrary cap per country for green cards, creating a massive backlog. This backlog grows worse every year. While there isn’t a firm count, hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants with employment-based visas are stuck in this bureaucratic limbo. For example, 300,000 legal immigrants from India may wait for years to obtain a green card. This backlog has a dramatic impact on the national economy, primarily through unrealized economic activity. Workers with these visas are in the country, but are hesitant to invest, purchase property, create businesses or otherwise engage in longer-term economic activity. There’s legislation that would reform this system and provide more resources to resolve the disconnect between legal visas and the green card backlog. However, this legislation has just been introduced and is unlikely to be passed prior to Congress adjourning in November 2018.


This article is brought to you by the NAR Real Estate Services group.

Written by Russell W. Riggs