Homeownership and immigration

Coming to a new country is hard, and constantly worrying about legal status is another burden piled on top of the daily stresses. It's something that naturalized citizens don't understand. It's not just about finding work, but it seeps into every facet of daily life. Most immigrants avoid very American things like buying a home out of fear that they'll be exposed as undocumented in the process.

While it's a valid concern and immigrants should always seek legal status as soon as possible, status is not necessary for many routine actions. For example, there is no rule that an undocumented immigrant cannot own his own home.

A Pew Hispanic Center study found that 35 percent of unauthorized immigrants are homeowners, which is half that of US-born residents. The number increases to 45 percent for those in the US for over ten years.

How do they do it?

The most important fact is that homes are not purchased through the government. A bank secures a loan from a financer. After running a background check, the bank then issues you the money. Banks are interested in repayment of the loan, not legal status.

Many loan applications require a Social Security number (SSN), but not all do. You can find an institution that uses your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead. Smaller community banks and credit unions often use this identification, as do some outreach groups.

The cost of living in fear

Because loans attached to SSN are more common, ITIN mortgages have a higher interest rate and are harder to achieve, but they are far from impossible. As the Pew study shows, almost half of immigrants own houses after living here for over a decade.

Living in fear of a status check is a heavy price to pay. Besides the stress it places on you and your family, it also influences daily decisions that can help improve your quality of life. Homeownership is not just a commitment to the bank, it's a commitment to your new community and country.

For increased security and less stress, it's still best to seek the right documentation, but lacking those papers doesn't mean you can't pursue other American rites like buying your own home.

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