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Judiciary Committee Advances Immigration Bill

May 24, 2013

On Tuesday May 21, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. Coming after five long days of debate and consideration of roughly 300 amendments, the final and bipartisan vote tally was 13 to 5. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. Reports have indicated that the bill will be taken up once the Senate has completed consideration of the Farm Bill.  Some observers expect the immigration debate on the Senate floor to last through June.

While the bill is a truly comprehensive reform measure encompassing a broad array of issues, including border security issues, a number of real estate-related provisions are of particular interest to NAR. These include provisions that permanently reauthorize the EB-5 immigrant investor regional center pilot program; make changes to the H-2B visa program which is important to the economies of many second home and resort communities; extend the length of time that Canadian retirees may spend each year in the United States, and create a new non-immigrant retiree visa category.

The retiree provisions contained in the bill were first proposed in 2011 by Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Lee (R-UT) as a part of S.1746, the Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America Act (VISIT-USA Act), and S. 3199, the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act of  2012 (JOLT Act). The Canadian retiree provisions increase the length of time that Canadian retirees 55 years and older who have a rental agreement for lodging or own a home in the U.S. may stay to 240 days per year. The retiree visa provision creates a new non-immigrant retiree visa for foreign nationals 55 years of age or older who purchase a principal residence (or a personal residence plus other residential properties) valued at $500,000 or more, and who agree to stay in the U.S. for not less than 180 days per year.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee prior to the Committee’s consideration of the bill, NAR expressed its support for the real estate related provisions, and called attention to technical drafting issues that could impact the successful implementation of the retiree visa provision. NAR staff continue to work to resolve these issues prior to the bill’s consideration on the Senate floor. NAR is also working with a broad real estate coalition group to address concerns with the changes made by the bill to the EB-5 regional center program; a copy of the coalition’s letter can be found here.

While the final outcome of the Senate’s debate is by no means certain, the possibility of Senate passage of immigration reform legislation is higher than it has been in years. In the House, discussions and hearings have begun but, to date, there has not been agreement on the part of all of the key players as to whether a comprehensive approach is the right one.  Like the Senate “Gang of Eight” that met and crafted S. 744, the House has its own bipartisan group of eight members who have been meeting with the goal of drafting a comprehensive measure. Reports indicate that there has been an agreement in principle but no formal proposal has been released. The outlook for passage in the House is not clear, with hurdles yet to be overcome.