One of the most common questions we get from our foreign clients is whether buying an American property will give them the legal right to live in the United States. Unfortunately, our first answer is always no. Just purchasing U.S. real estate does not automatically set you on the path toward citizenship. This is because matters of immigration are much more strictly regulated than matters of foreign investment. The United States is fairly accommodating when it comes to foreigners who might potentially stimulate the economy, but since the signing of the Patriot Act in 2001, the country has become increasingly strict on who gets in.
DOES BUYING A HOME MAKE ME A CITIZEN ? – Though our first answer is always “no,” our follow-up answer is hopefully a bit more heartening. There are a multitude of ways to become a legal resident of the United States, and as Orlando’s premier foreign buyer’s agents, our team is well-qualified to help you understand them, and to steer you toward the path that’s right for you. Below is a brief outline of these methods for obtaining the legal right to a piece of the American Dream.
The EB-5 program, also known as the Immigrant Investor Program, was created by congress as a means to stimulate the U.S. economy by granting citizenship to foreigners who invest in job-creating American businesses. To qualify, the applicant must prove that they have invested, or are in the process of investing, at least 1 million dollars in a new for-profit business that will create, or preserve, at least 10 full-time jobs.
However, if the applicant’s investments are funding a business in a “Targeted Employment Area,” which is: a) any area with an unemployment rate of more than 1.5 times the national average, or b) any “rural” area outside a metropolitan statistical area or outside a city with a population of less than 20 thousand, the qualifying investment amount may be reduced to 500k. For either amount, whether 1 million or 500k, applicants may be able to secure a loan against sufficient personal assets.
If conditions are met, the applicant will be granted a probationary 2-year visa, plus one for their spouse and any un-married children under 21 years of age. If, at 90 days prior to the end of the 2-year probationary period, the applicant can show proof of their ongoing investment and of the required creation or preservation of 10 full-time jobs, the USCIS will remove the probationary status of the visas, granting the applicant and their family full legal residency.
An alternative route to obtaining an EB-5 visa is to invest not in a specific business, but in an approved regional center within a Targeted Employment Area. Jobs created or preserved by approved regional center investments can be direct or indirect, providing more flexibility for applicants, and making them an increasingly popular option.
The F-1 visa program was designed to give non-citizens access to academic and language-training programs in the United States. F-1 status requires applicants to be enrolled in a full course of study of at least 12 credit hours at an accredited university, or 18 hours a week in an intensive English program, and is generally granted for periods of four years or more. Before applying for an F-1 visa, you must first apply at your chosen educational institution and obtain a Form I-20. You also need to be able to show that you can support yourself financially while in the States, since jobs for visa-holders are limited.
F-1 applicants can also obtain visa status for their families with the F-2 visa. F-2 visas allow spouses and children of F-1 visa holders to remain in the United States as dependents of the F-1 student. An F-2 visa-holder will not be eligible for legal gainful employment, but dependents under the age of 18 can attend public schools.
Like the EB-5 visa, the E-2 visa is issued to foreigners who invest in American businesses. However, unlike the EB-5, which requires investments of 500k or 1 million dollars, the E-2 visa only requires that the investment be proportionally substantial to capitalize the venture, meaning sizable enough to hold a majority interest in the company. The USCIS will determine the substantiality of the investment using a sliding scale.
There are some limitations to the E-2 visa. It’s only available to citizens of select countries, and is only valid for two years, though it can be renewed indefinitely. Also, E-2 visa holders must leave the United States, or else obtain another type of status, if their business concludes. Finally, while the spouse of an E-2 visa holder can legally work in the United States, children below the age of 21 can’t.
L-1 visas are available to employees of international companies with branches in the United States. These can include existing branches or new, up-and-coming office locations, meaning that if you own a business in a foreign country, you can open a United States branch as a path to citizenship.
There are many benefits to this option: It doesn’t require a large investment of money, and because L-1 holders can return to their home country at any time, doesn’t require a large investment of time. It can also be used as a means to obtaining permanent resident, or “green card,” status if the applicant demonstrates “dual intent.”
An L-1 visa holder’s spouse can also seek employment in the United States by obtaining an L-2 visa and an employment authorization document (EAD) card, better known as a “work permit.”
One major limitation of the L-1 visa is that it’s only valid for a relatively short period of time. This can be as few as three months, or as many seven years, depending on what country the applicant is from, and on what, if any, extensions they obtain. But again, if the applicant shows dual intent, the L-1 can be a stepping stone toward permanent residency status, which
Does buying a home make me a citizen – Marrying a U.S. Citizen
You don’t necessarily have to invest, work, or pursue an education in the United States to legally live here. Marriage to a U.S. citizen can grant you permanent residency through family—in this case, your spouse. Foreigners who marry an American citizen can apply for a green card, and through the naturalization process, can even apply for full citizenship after three years of marriage, as opposed to the usual five-year waiting period for other green card holders.
In order to qualify the applicant for green card status, the marriage must not be shown to have been entered into just for obtaining the green card. It must also have been performed by a licensed officiant and filed correctly with the courts, and must be in effect at the time of the green card application.
As you can see, if you’re questioning yourself “does buying a home make me a citizen ?” Even though the answer is NO, fortunately there’s plenty of other opportunities to help you becoming a citizen of the United States Of America! While obtaining United States citizenship, or even just legal residency status, is not exactly an easy undertaking. Purchasing American real estate may not automatically confer on you the legal right to live here, but with the help of the foreign investment-specialists at the Authentic Real Estate Team, you can find the option that best fits your needs, and set yourself on the path to legal residency in less time, and with less effort, than you think.