A new bill introduced by two U.S. senators is designed to have foreigners spur on the struggling U.S. economy. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced The Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States Act (VISIT-USA Act). The new legislation proposes two different variations of a 3-year non-immigrant residential visa. One of which is a “home ownership visa” which is the subject of this blog post.

The VISIT-USA Act would create a new visa for Canadians citizens who meet the following conditions:

1. Uses at least $500,000 in cash to purchase 1 or more residences in the United States. Each property must be purchased for more than 100 percent of the most recent appraised value; and

2. Maintains ownership of residential property in the United States worth at least $500,000; and

3. Resides for more than 180 days per year in a residence in the United States that is worth at least $250,000; and

4. Are not otherwise inadmissible;

Under current immigration law Canadians visitors cannot spend more than 180 days in the U.S. The new visa would extend the number of days Canadians could stay in the U.S. from 180 to 240 per year and would be renewable every 3 years. If this bill were to become law we may see a radical change to the migration patters of thousands of Canadian snowbirds.

At first blush Canadian boomers may be excited about the prospects of a year round golf season. A word of caution to retirees who will be lining up at U.S. immigration offices like teenagers at Apple stores: before making any moves it is critical to understand all the personal, financial and tax impacts of such a lifestyle.

The visa would not allow Canadians to work in the U.S. or obtain any U.S. benefits such as social security or Medicare. Canadians who will be increasing their time in the U.S. may lose their Canadian health care benefits. This means that private insurance becomes a threshold issue and is a must have for anyone considering the proposed visa. In addition, Canadians may wind up becoming tax residents of the U.S. and paying tax to the IRS on their worldwide income. While getting involved with the IRS sounds like a dicey proposition for most Canadians, this actually may be a good thing as U.S. income tax rates are significantly lower than Canadian income tax rates.

The Canada U.S. Tax Treaty has been designed in such a way that you can only be a tax resident of either the U.S. or Canada. Tax residency is a question of fact. Some of the key questions to ask to determine tax residency are:

– Where do you spend the majority of your time?
– Where does your immediate family reside?
– Where is your socio-economic center?

Becoming a tax resident of the U.S. means you are becoming a non-resident of Canada for tax purposes. When a Canadian cuts ties with Canada from a tax perspective this may give rise to departure tax issues. Careful planning must be done in advance to analyze one’s assets with the objective of deferring, minimizing or eliminating departure tax issues.

U.S. tax residency has numerous advantages for Canadian retirees. Lower income tax rates on income and pensions, no OAS clawback and an opportunity to possibly withdraw proceeds from RRSPs / RRIFs nearly tax free are a few of the highlights. Once the dust settles, Canadians may find that they have additional after tax dollars to use and enjoy in their new sun filled retirement.

Stay tuned for more on this new Bill. At this point we do not know if the VISIT-USA Act will become law but one thing is for sure, second to the Habs-Leafs hockey rivalry, this may be the most debated topic in South Florida this coming winter.

Register now for a workshop for Canadians interested in Moving to the U.S. taking place on November 18, 2011 in Toronto, ON.

Follow Matt Altro on Twitter at @MattAltro