Two US senators unveiled a bill Thursday that aims to attract Chinese and Canadian tourists and encourage some foreign nationals to buy homes -- and pay taxes -- on US soil.
The proposal, crafted by Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator Mike Lee, would allow Chinese nationals currently required to apply for a new US visa every year to seek five-year, multiple-entry visitor visas.
The average Chinese visitor to the United States spends $6,000, the lawmakers said in a statement showcasing their "Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America Act (VISIT-USA Act)."
The bill also envisions a "Canadian retiree visa" for Canadians over 50 who can show that they have housing available for their stay to obtain a visa that lasts 240 days a year and is renewable every three years.
Currently, Canadian visitors without a visa cannot stay longer than 180 days, but "many" would stay longer "during periods where the weather is still cold" if legally permitted, the senators said in their statement.
With the US housing market still in a slump triggered by the 2007-2008 global economic meltdown, the bill would provide an unprecedented three-yearresidential visa for foreign nationals who invest $500,000 in a US home.
At least $250,000 must go to a primary residence in which the buyer will live for at least 180 days out of the year "while paying taxes to the US," the statement said.
Beneficiaries would not be eligible for government aid programs and "the program would not serve as a path to citizenship," the statement said.
"Our housing market will never begin a true recovery as long as our housing stock so greatly exceeds demand. This is not a cure-all, but it could be part of the solution," said Schumer.
"This bill supports a free market method for increasing demand for housing at a time when so many working-class Americans are underwater on their homes, are desperate for prices to rise again, and big-government programs have failed to work," said Lee.
The bill would also allow the US State Department to charge a fee to expedite visa processing, a move the senators said could entice "people of means" who skip US destinations because of the waiting times for visas.
And it would permit the department to lower its visa fees during off-peak seasons for travel in order to attract tourists, as well as expedite visas for countries deemed to be helping to battle Al-Qaeda.
The potent US Chamber of Commerce endorsed the legislation, with president Thomas Donohue saying that travel and tourism account for more than $700 billion in revenues and 7.4 million US jobs.
"These important reforms could help the United States restore its share of the travel market to its 2000 level of 17 percent and create an additional 1.3 million jobs by 2020," said Donohue.