Rising Tensions, Rising Restrictions: A Look at State Efforts to Limit Chinese Land Ownership

A Growing Trend with Political and Discriminatory Undercurrents

More than two-thirds of U.S. states have either enacted or are considering laws limiting foreign ownership of land. Though these restrictions often encompass multiple countries deemed hostile to U.S. interests, China is almost invariably the primary target. 

Proponents of land purchase restrictions argue that the federal government is failing to adequately safeguard states from potential threats posed by foreign (i.e. Chinese) ownership. However, the data paints a different picture. Though concerns regarding food security and supply chain disruptions are valid, foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land currently accounts for a mere 3.1%, with Canada and the Netherlands holding a significantly larger stake in US farmland than China.

A Flurry of Legislation and Constitutional Challenges

Despite limited evidence of a substantial threat, a wave of state-level legislation is aimed at curbing foreign land ownership. More than 20 states are actively considering new restrictions or updates to existing laws, and this year South Dakota passed a law that bars Chinese citizens from scooping up farmland in the state.

Florida also recently passed a law that limits the ability of Chinese nationals to buy property. The law prohibits Chinese nationals, and those from other countries deemed to be a threat, from purchasing property near military and other critical infrastructure, and from purchasing agricultural land. Citizens selling property to Chinese nationals face significant penalties, and it is expected to prohibit Chinese nationals from getting mortgages entirely.

Florida’s law is being criticized for its criminal penalties on Chinese people as well. The law provides that Chinese nationals who buy homes could face up to five years in prison, with sellers facing up to one year in prison. Opponents of the law challenge it as an unlawful discrimination against people of Chinese origin, violating the Fair Housing Action and the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.

However, preliminarily the U.S. District Court rejected this argument, and determined that there was no proof the law was motivated by unlawful racial animus. More recently in February, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the law as it applied to two Chinese citizens, but allowed the law to remain in effect. Opponents say that their determination was too narrow, as most Chinese nationals are now prohibited from buying property in the state entirely. But the law has faced some judicial resistance, with one appellate judge calling the law a “blatant violation of the 14th Amendment.” And just last week, attorneys for several plaintiffs asked the court to block the law more broadly. It is still too early to tell how the court will rule in that case.


The debate surrounding these laws underscores broader questions about discrimination, constitutional rights, and the balance between security and economic openness. Criticisms of these laws, particularly regarding their potential discriminatory impact and constitutionality, highlight the need for careful consideration and robust legal scrutiny by the courts.

As legal challenges unfold and the public discourse continues, it remains imperative to critically evaluate the motivations behind such legislation, while balancing any legitimate security concerns. A final determination on the constitutionality of these laws is on the horizon as the legal challenges in Court continue to unfold. In the interim, Chinese nationals face increasingly steep hurdles in purchasing property in the U.S.