The MININT (the Cuban Interior Ministry) chose May 20th, Cuba’s Independence Day, to publish its Resoluciòn No. 4/14, which lays out the procedure whereby a foreign individual (“personas naturales extranjeras” the resolution reads) who wants to invest in “owning” or renting houses in Cuba can obtain a special visa that makes him a Cuban resident for such purposes (the status lasts one year, but can be renewed yearly without a limited number of renewals), since only Cuban residents can hold title to housing in Cuba under the present state of Cuban laws. This MININT resolution also sets the conditions affecting the visa holders’ residence in Cuba.
Before we begin hollering and casting stones at this latest example of moral turpitude on the part of the Cuban authorities (how dare they sell to wealthy foreigners the “right” to live in Cuba!!??) we may want to take note of the fact that is precisely what the United States has been doing under its Investor type visas for many years.
At about the same time Resoluciòn No. 4/14 showed up at the Gaceta Oficial de Cuba, our local authorities in Miami were celebrating our Magic City’s designation as an “EB-5 regional center”.
When Section 610 of Public Law 102-395 created this Immigrant Investor Pilot Program back in1992, regional centers were meant to be in areas of our country that were among the poorest and in need of more assistance. Miami, where real estate prices are way beyond the reach of the average Miamian’s income (as a series of articles in a local newspaper recently documented), proudly (!?) claims to be the first city in Florida and in the Southeast of the USA to be so designated.
In the smallest of nut-shells (since this piece is not about US laws), an EB-5 visa gives green cards to foreign investors –and their family members under 21 years of age- who invest a minimum of $500,000.00 into a project that, within two years time, creates at least 10 jobs in the US. If those ten jobs are not created, the investor may lose his investment and be sent packing back home, since the green cards are conditioned to those 10 jobs been created within 2 years. I know of no statistics showing winners and losers in this game, but I don’t even want to think about the trouble I might get into if I were to tell you how I believe these investments compare, risk-wise, with investing, say, in Mexico, in China (or dare I say Cuba…). And that was before the program “evolved” –the creativeness of my fellow lawyers is limitless- in a way that now covers investment in fancy real estate products, a field that, especially in Miami, historically tends to be of a highly speculative nature.
The Cuban visa for real estate investors requires, just as many of our visa types do, a petitioner: Cubas’s Tourism Minister (article 2 of Resolution 4/14). Together with the other elements you usually present to obtain a visa anywhere (passport, pictures, etc.), you need to present a letter from this guy asking the MININT to issue you one of these real estate related resident visas.
The migratory category Cuba assigns to the holder of this visa type is called “Residente de Inmobiliaria” (article 3), which, at first glance, seems to suggest the “real estate resident investor” needs to be housed at, say, the offices of Pedro Realty or some other realtor’s headquarters. And the reference found on the first of the whereas clauses at the beginning of Resolution 4/14 to houses in “complejos inmobiliarios” or real estate developments suggests the petitioner may not be likely to petition you for one of these visas if what you want to buy or rent is one of those beautiful El Vedado mansions.
But I would give it a try, nonetheless…
If you get one of these visas you will have to request and carry always with you an ID document (articles 8 to 13 of Resolution 4/14) that says you are a real estate resident investor (something Americans are often inimical to but is quite common in many places) You will not need to live in Cuba all the time; you can spend a year abroad, without setting foot in Cuba and still not loose your status as a “Residente de Inmobiliaria” (article 6), and even extend your absence for a longer time by asking for a waiver at a Cuban consular office.
During your stay in Cuba under this migratory status you will be able to engage in pre-authorized touristic and/or business activities of the kind Cuba’s laws allow (article 14), and travel anywhere in the island (WOW) in pursuit of such activities (article 15).
You lose your real estate resident investor migratory status (a) when you are no longer an owner or tenant of a house in Cuba, (b) when you stay away from Cuba beyond the time prescribed in article 6 mentioned above, or (c) if your behavior is found to be contrary to Cuba’s Constitution, its laws, or the conditions the visa places upon your stay (article 17).
In the same edition of the Gaceta Oficial de Cuba (GO no.25 Extraordinaria de 20 de mayo de 2014) you can read another resolution, this one from the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), Resoluciòn 47/14, where you’ll find your bearings as to how you get this dependency of the Cuban Government to become your petitioner for one of these visas.
This resolution also describes what happens when a visa holder in this category does something (any of the three situations listed in article 17 of the MININT resolution discussed above) that leads to his losing his status as a “Residente de Inmobiliaria”. Article 11 of this Resolution 47/14 tells us that it is the responsibility of the head of the entity that administers the real estate development where the house in question is situated to report to the Ministry of Tourism the circumstances affecting the status of the visa holder who occupies that house. The Tourism Ministry then must, within three working days, report the situation to the MININT explaining why the reasons behind the issuance of that particular visa do not hold water any longer under those new circumstances (article 12). After that, my impression is Sayonara could be just around the corner…
This resolution of MINTUR (?) also contains, in my personal opinion, a strong indication that these visas will only be used for those who buy or rent housing in a certain type of real estate development (and not for isolated pieces of real property); the recurrent reference in the two resolutions commented here to “el complejo inmobiliario donde está ubicada la vivienda” (the real estate complex where the dwelling is located) strengthens my perception that this visas may not be suitable for those foreigners who want to simply buy an old apartment in a pre-1959 building in Old Havana: they will still have to buy it under someone else’s name, if they themselves are not permanent residents in Cuba. Article 1 of Resolution 47/14 defines what a “complejo inmobiliario” is, and it reads:
“ARTÍCULO 1.- A los efectos de lo dispuesto en la presente se entiende por complejos inmobiliarios, aquellos construidos y administrados por entidades cubanas autorizadas, con la finalidad de la venta o arrendamiento de viviendas”. (Real estate developments built and administered by authorized Cuban entities for purposes of selling or renting residential property)
There are too many questions left unanswered, in my humble view.
For instance, is the foreign investor who holds this kind of visa limited to be a rent-paying tenant when he opts not to buy a house in Cuba, or can he rent out a house he bought as an investment? I assume the latter, since it would be senseless for a law to force the investor to keep the house vacant during the time he is abroad (which could be a year or more).
If the Residente de Inmobiliaria can buy a dwelling and then rent it, is there any limit to how many such dwellings he can buy? My ‘guess’ here would be that he can buy only one, despite the fact that his presumed ability to own and rent seems to skirt the provision in Cuba’s housing law under which only those who are permanent residents in Cuba can own a house there, and only if they live in it.
But the thing I regret the most is that neither of these two resolutions shed any new light into the nature and extent of the rights those foreigners who buy real property in Cuba will get; what I wrote here
http://www.cubastandard.com/2013/05/24/analysis-cubas-derechos-de-superficie-are-they-real-property-rights/, almost exactly a year ago still is, to the best of my knowledge, all we know about that important topic.
Before there is a clear answer to the question “what does ‘owning’ residential real property in Cuba by a foreigner entails”, and since it is the US and not Cuba the country where most people are willing to pay and take risks in order to live there, it will be hard to think of Cuba as a competitor for the US$550,000.00 each of the many Chinese EB-5 aspirants must chip in to bet on the chance of obtaining a permanent and unconditional green card. But even as things stand today, I would hesitate to say who is the wiser investor; so who knows, maybe some people from China will still prefer to take a risk on Varadero than on Brickell Avenue.