?Mixed reviews for luxury homebuyer visa bill?

Buy a house for half a million dollars and get a visa to stay in the United States for three years.

That’s part of a bill in Congress that aims to stoke the weak U.S. real estate market by luring more wealthy foreign buyers. But the plan is getting mixed reviews in South Florida, one of the country’s hardest-hit housing markets.

Critics say the incentives for foreign investors, as written, won’t attract many buyers. For example, the bill does not let foreigners work while they’re here, and it does not offer them a path to permanent residency. That’s what many Chinese investors want, said developer Lon Tabatchnik, who is luring Chinese investors to his Margaritaville hotel project in Hollywood with a different visa program.

“The Chinese aren’t coming here for a three-year vacation,” Tabatchnik said. “They’re coming here to work and educate their children.”

The bill also would classify the housing investors as full-time residents, requiring them to pay U.S. taxes on their worldwide income. Many Latin Americans and Europeans now buy U.S. real estate as an investment but don’t stay full-time, so they won’t be taxed on their global holdings, said immigration lawyer Larry Behar of Fort Lauderdale.

The provisions are part of a bill co-sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would change travel visa programs to lure more foreigners to America. Its real estate portion would let foreigners stay in the country for three years if they invest at least $500,000 in housing, including at least $250,000 for what would become their principal residence. The travel visa could be renewed.

Many Florida lawmakers are still studying the bill, dubbed VISIT-USA. Some say they’re encouraged by creative efforts to reduce the state’s glut in housing.

“In Florida, if we can help the real-estate market, we can help the general economy,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton. He said the terms of the bill could be tweaked to boost its effectiveness.

Travel leaders in South Florida give rave reviews to provisions that would modernize the visa process. It now can take three months for qualified applicants in Brazil and China to get U.S. travel visas.

The bill would let foreigners pay extra to get their visas processed within three business days and let U.S. officials interview applicants by video conference to speed approvals, among other measures.

But details of the travel visa-for-homes proposal are prompting the most concerns locally. Behar said the new bill might distract Congress from extending a different law that brings foreign investment to job-creating ventures. The employment-based visa program, known as EB5, is helping fund Miami’s Life-Science Technology Park and other regional projects. EB5 will expire Sept. 30 unless renewed.

“At the end of the day, it really has to be about job creation for Americans,” Behar said. The Schumer-Lee bill does not require that new jobs be created.

Said developer Mo Abbas, who promotes EB5 projects in Hollywood: “In my opinion, the bill will result in sellers’ inflating residential prices so their homes qualify for the proposed three-year tourist visa. What we need is long-term investment, not a quick fix.”