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Rebuild the housing markets through immigration

Desperate times call for innovative measures. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has already had to expand his focus from a flawed plan to buy toxic securities to one focused on taking equity stakes in financial institutions.

Politicians in Washington would be well-advised to engage in a similar rethink about one of this election cycle's whipping boys: immigration.

America should immediately offer fast-track immigration to foreigners willing to do two things.

First, they must buy a house in the United States worth a minimum of $200,000 or with a minimum area of 2,000 square feet, paying cash up front.

Second, they must place a further $250,000 in a government-insured account with a U.S. financial institution or spend $250,000 to create a business in the United States employing a minimum of three American citizens.

In exchange for documented proof of good health and no criminal record -- plus the recommendation of a financial institution, major employer or government agency in their home country -- they should automatically be granted a green card, good for three years. Their green card should automatically become permanent if the authorities cannot prove terrorist connections or fraudulent claims in the entry documents.

During this time these newcomers would not be allowed to sell or mortgage their new home. The only grounds on which they would be allowed to withdraw money from their account would be if they failed to find a job, in which case they would be entitled to withdraw a maximum of $50,000 a year. They would not be eligible for welfare.

Suppose that 1 million new immigrants responded. They would put $200 billion into the housing market immediately, soaking up excess supply without drawing on the strained balance sheets of financial institutions.

In the same vein, 1 million new immigrants placing $250,000 each into financial institutions would fill those institutions' coffers to the tune of a further $250 billion.

Those who chose to invest in their own business and employ Americans would both help to alleviate rising concern about unemployment and to improve the unfairly tarnished image of immigrants.

America's strength has always been in its openness. That openness -- to ideas, capital and above all people -- has always been richly rewarded. Now the rest of the world offers America once again the opportunity to renew and refresh itself by drawing in a wave of dynamic and motivated new potential citizens who ask for nothing better than a chance to buy a share of the American dream.

Dori Segal, a dual Israeli-U.S. citizen, is CEO of First Capital Realty in Toronto. Brian Lee Crowley is president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a public policy think tank based in Nova Scotia.

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