Can I buy a house in the United States with a visitor or student visa?

As an immigration lawyer, my clients often ask me questions about real estate. Here are some of the typical questions that I get asked along with my answers:

“I have a visitor visa, which is good for ten years. Can I buy a house in the United States even though I don’t have a green card or U.S. citizenship?”

Yes, you are legally permitted to do it. In the United States, permanent residency or U.S. citizenship is not a legal requirement for real estate ownership.

“Will buying a house mess up my visitor or student visa?”

It certainly could, at least in general. I see a possible red flag. Here’s the problem: visitors and students are considered nonimmigrants. This means that if you have a visitor or student visa, you will only be permitted to enter the United States if you are considered to have no intention whatsoever to immigrate or seek a green card. Real estate ownership may suggest an intention to immigrate, which visitors and students are not permitted to do. But, of course, it depends on your situation. Maybe buying a house is simply a passive investment and you seldom, if ever, visit the U.S. And maybe you have overwhelming, irrefutable proof of your deep ties to your home country and no intention of immigrating. Or maybe you’re a billionaire and want to buy a vacation house in Nantucket, which would in no way suggest immigrant intent. Again, it all depends on the facts of your particular situation.

“Do I have to buy the house with cash or could I qualify for a mortgage even though I don’t have a green card, U.S. citizenship or a social security number?”

As an immigration lawyer, the logistics of buying real estate is not my particular area of expertise. Whether a bank would loan money to a purchaser who has a visitor or student visa or someone with no social security number is a question best put to a mortgage broker or mortgage finance banker or other real estate professional.

“Will I qualify to receive a green card because I bought a house in the United States?”

No. You can’t get a green card simply by buying a house in the U.S. In fact, owning real estate doesn’t ordinarily give you any visa or other immigration benefits. If you are interested in setting up a small business in the United States and have at least $100,000 to invest and meet certain other requirements, you could pursue an E-2 Investor Visa, which would allow you to live in the U.S. while running the business. Another possible option is the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program. Through the EB-5 program, you and your immediate family could qualify for green cards through an investment of at least $500,000. But the EB-5 is intended for passive investments into third-party Regional Centers, which administer and manage your investment. Normally, the EB-5 visa has nothing to do with buying a house or real estate.

I hope this answers your questions about the immigration consequences of real estate ownership. If you have more questions, please call or email me. I’d be happy to hear from you!