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U. S. Property Sellers Tout Visas to Hong Kong Buyers : But Immigration Official Warns That Moving to This Country Not as Easy as Often Represented

February 07, 1988|BARNETT SUSSMAN | Barnett Sussman is a Times real estate writer. and

Some sellers of U. S. property are telling prospective buyers in Hong Kong that they'll be able to move to the United States when China takes over the English colony in 1997--but American officials warn that this might be more hype than reality.

Werner Griem, managing director of Harms & Marcus, a Hong Kong-based trading company, said one of the biggest selling appeals used to attract buyers of American property is the promise of visas and possible citizenship.

"The possibility of working out a long-term visa using this way of initial entrance is definitely an attraction to potential buyers, not just in Hong Kong but other areas of Asia," said Hwai-Tang Chen, a specialist in Asian business affairs at Arthur Andersen & Co., Los Angeles.

But getting either the visa or the citizenship is going to be a lot more difficult than getting the deed to the property, said Duke Austin, a spokesman for the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Austin said there is a fixed number of persons who can immigrate and become permanent residents of the United States but because of requests from those with higher priority, there are no visas available for foreigners who simply want to invest here.

He said long-term visas are usually issued to foreign executives working in the United States.

Investors can get short-term visas--good for a year, he said.

Getting a visa does not necessarily improve the chance of getting citizenship, he added.

Attorney Luke Odabashian of the Los Angeles-based law firm of McKiernan, Gurrola, Moriwaki & Brady, said that an alternative is for the investor to become an owner or executive of an international business. Then, the investor can get a visa that can be extended for years.

There is, however, no agreement on what constitutes an international business. Austin said that he assumes that the definition would include a requirement that the company have branches in more than one country.

Austin emphasized that if the investor is setting up the company solely for the purpose of getting residence in the United States, he could be denied entry as an "intended immigrant."

Austin said there is talk in Congress about the possibility of changing the laws dealing with investor immigration.

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