Please find a brief guide to visa options for U.S. real estate professionals looking to expand their foreign clientele here. This guide comes from several years of attending and presenting at real estate conferences and the questions that have been raised by real estate professionals.

Foreign Nationals: Profile of Real Estate Buyers

1. Investment: These individuals have money to burn, and see brick & mortar as a sound investment vehicle. They may or may not be interested in residing in the U.S.

2. Pied-à-terre: These individuals have principal residence in another country and use property in U.S. as vacation home. They too may or may not be interested in residing in the U.S.

3. Primary Residence: They want to live in the U.S. permanently but may not have the immigration status to do so… yet.

How can you expand your real estate clientele to include foreign customers?

— Marketing is important but the potential buyers may want to live, work, and study in the U.S. and that requires immigration solutions.

— One way is to be able to help identify ways to get your clients to the US. Some people do not have access to the U.S.: If you can pair them up with people who have solutions, you may gain new clients.

— If they are in the U.S. full-time, then they are potentially a constant referral source (as well as a repeat customer).

— Selling to employment-authorized visa holders and green card holders mean you can also secure buyers who need a mortgage, so you are not limited to cash-only buyers.

Foreign Investors: 5 Common Profiles

1)  Types of Investors: Foreign Students

Foreign Students are usually on an F-1 student visa, which only covers them for the term of study + one year of OPT (Optional Practical Training). They cannot remain in the U.S. unless they are sponsored for employment. Last year only 85,000 visas were available for all foreign university graduates, so odds are low.

Many foreign students who come here to study desire to remain in the U.S. because the cost of education is so high & chances for scholarships and loans are so low, students generally come from upper-class families with substantial resources.

Options for Students

— E-2 visa: For students from countries which have a bilateral treaty with the U.S., they can get a visa to run a start-up or buy an existing business.

— EB-5: For students who do not come from a treaty country (including BRIICS countries), they can invest passively in any project which will create at least 10 full-time jobs. Examples include restaurants, hotels, assisted living centers, factories, etc.

— Funds need to be legally obtained, though need not have to be earned. Funds can be gifted by family members.

2)  Types of Investors: Professionals (Employees)

“Un pied et demi” is an idiom that translates into “one and a half feet in the U.S.,” meaning: Foreign professionals who are employed by U.S. employers; they usually come in under 3 categories:

1. H-1B are university degree holders.

2. E-1/E-2 are treaty-based companies set up in U.S. to sponsor people from the same country.

3. L-1 are when a foreign parent company transfers foreign employees to a U.S. subsidiary.

Employees – Why are they such great potential clients?

Foreign nationals with any of these three visa classifications are deemed to have “dual intent.” This means they are not required to maintain a foreign residence, which makes them prime candidates for buying a U.S. residence. They are the most likely to be sponsored for green cards and become permanent residents. They are also eligible for mortgages with many mortgage lenders.

3)  Types of Investors: Entrepreneurs/Business Owners

Entrepreneurs and business owners overseas can launch new U.S. companies and can get visas to run the US operations. Since they are basing their visas on either investment or expansion of an existing business, they have money and make for good potential clients. The applicable visa classifications carry dual intent and are eligible for green cards.

4)  Types of Investors: Stars

“Stars” means anyone who is considered to have extraordinary ability and at the top of their field. This can be movie stars, serial entrepreneurs, well-known scientists, researchers, journalists, you name it! (No world-famous criminals!) They do not require a sponsor: Self-sponsored petitions can be fast-tracked and processed very quickly.

5)  Types of Investors: Retirees with money

While this may be more relevant in Florida or Arizona, foreign nationals wanting to retire in the U.S. can do so, if they have a significant amount of extra money: The EB-5 program allows them to invest in a program or project that meets the job creation requirements for a permanent green card.

Very important caveat: A green card CANNOT be obtained by simply investing in real estate. If 10 full-time jobs are not created as a direct result of their investment, they will not qualify for a permanent green card!!

How to use EB-5

EB-5 allows the broker to “package” the property to be sold as a “combo” of sorts. There are two separate investments: The EB-5 investment and the property purchase. Working with an EB-5 project allows you to use a global budget which takes into consideration the cost of EB-5, and gives you a ceiling of the remaining funds to work with.

For example: Foreign investor has $2 million overall to invest and wants a green card for himself, his wife and their three minor children. The EB-5 project requires $500k plus $100k in administrative / legal / processing fees. This gives you a budget of $1.4 million to work with for your property sale.

Take-Home Lessons

In order to attract more foreign national clients, it is good to be minimally familiar with the different options foreign nationals have to procure temporary and permanent residence in the U.S., and the visa classifications that allow them to reside here and get mortgages.

Many times, helping foreign national clients to find a solution to their immigration needs will help you get the client and keep them for the long term. It can also generate more long-term potential referral sources. If you can’t be their problem-solver and resource, they may find someone else who can!
Make sure to have someone in your wheelhouse who understands these issues thoroughly in order to be able to maximize your chances of closing the deal, and opening the door to an unlimited amount of future clients!