Buy a House, Get a Visa: Coming Soon Everywhere?

For the last two years, Spain has been in the thick of a massive housing crisis. There are somewhere between 700,000 and a million new, unsold homes in the country. (The U.S., by contrast, with five times the population of Spain, has only 145,000 new unsold homes.) Spanish banks hold nearly 200 billion euros worth of bad mortgage loans.

So Spain is offering a deal. Buy a house worth more than the mean home price and receive something that had been, until now, priceless: Spanish residency papers.

Spain isn’t the first European country that’s tried to stimulate the housing market through immigration incentives. Portugal offers residency papers for a 400,000 euro property investment; Ireland for 500,000. Hungary offers residency to anyone who buys 250,000 euros worth of specially issued government bonds. But so far, the Spaniards are setting the bar the lowest. For 160,000 euros, a Spanish house — and a Spanish home — can be yours.

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It’s a proposal, colloquially known as “buy a home, get a visa,” that’s been touted by a number of economics writers, including Thomas Friedman, Matt Yglesias, Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok, and others.

Since the programs in Portugal and Ireland only began earlier this year, there’s scant evidence yet of how well they’re working. One concern among European Union states is that open borders within the Schengen Area means that one country’s radical immigration policy has far-ranging repercussions. In Ireland, for example, supporters have advertised the “Immigrant Investor” program as a fast route to E.U. citizenship — “the Irish passport is one of the most sought-after travel documents in the world” — an approach that’s unlikely to sit well in countries like Denmark and Finland that retain strict limits on immigration.

Other opponents might contend that such programs offer “citizenship for sale,”

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