Gerry Weiner – Pace Law Firm: Quebec has long been in control of its own immigration objectives, separate from those of the federal government. That remains true to this day. The result is that Canada still has an immigrant investor program, but it is centred in Quebec (a hodgepodge of provincial nomination programs targeting entrepreneurs also exists, but they are not straightforward ‘investor immigration’ programs in the classic sense).
It is my hope that the federal government will restart a federal investor program along the same lines as the one in Quebec. With the recent talk of an infrastructure bank and other murmurings, I believe the federal government is headed in the right direction.
The Quebec Investor Immigration Program
Quebec’s investor program requires an investment (more accurately, an interest-free loan) of $800,000 CDN for 5 years, in exchange for a Nomination Certificate. This certificate allows a person to apply for permanent residence in Canada.
Quebec has been operating this program successfully for 30 years, with approximately 1,700 applicants approved each year. However, only around 22% stay in Quebec, with the rest heading west to Ontario and B.C.
One of the reasons for the low Quebec retention rate is the lack of good investor immigration programs in the rest of the country. With Quebec being the only investor portal for entry into Canada, its program attracts many who actually want to reside in other provinces.
I know that the Quebec government, and their immigration minister Kathleen Weil, have been very anxious to see a larger proportion of approved applicants remain in Quebec. But it’s academic: though Quebec asks people to remain in the province, you cannot force someone to live anywhere in Canada. The Charter guarantees people’s mobility rights.
This is why I feel so strongly about the government reinstating a federal investor immigration program. If we had a level playing field – like an equivalent program to Quebec’s – for the entire country, it would allow applicants to target the province of their choice. This would no doubt help Quebec’s retention rate, because the people applying for immigration to Quebec are the ones who want to live and work there. As it is, Quebec’s program is more like a springboard than a landing strip.
The Feds can still learn from Quebec, however. The province has developed a good selection system with a professional team of what could best be described as forensic accountants. They carefully examine the financial records of applicants and ensure they’re on the up and up.
Prior to cancellation of the federal program there were no specialized immigration staff who could undertake due diligence on the applications. The law only required an applicant to be examined by a visa officer, who in most cases had little or no business or accounting experience. This is one of the reasons that the program got so bogged down. It was being crushed under its own weight. Applications piled up and there weren’t enough qualified staff to cull the load.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with the then Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney. The discussion soon turned to the problems of the federal investor program, including the issue of due diligence and the glacial pace of application processing. I and my team from Pace made the suggestion that if he was serious about the program, he should hire a team of forensic accountants, open an office in Kapuskasing and set them to work sorting out the good from the bad. His response was: Why Kapuskasing? I think he missed the point.
Make Investor Immigration Happen
At the moment, public perception towards investor immigration is quite negative. There are reports of past fraudsters in the system, as well as the worries about investors driving up real estates prices. How can we make the public feel like the program contributes to their community?
Advocates for business immigration must come together. We must work to make investor immigration better understood across the country. The population must see the benefit of the program and be connected to it. It is only by having wide popular support that a program will flourish.
At the present time there are many positive investor immigration programs around the world. We should highlight these to show their benefits. The Gold Standard has to be the USA. They offer resident status under their EB-5 program. There are also good economic citizenship programs in several Caribbean countries, as well as others in the European Union, with good programs in Portugal, Bulgaria, and Cyprus.
Immigration advocates, business leaders, and government officials must work to make investor immigration happen again at the federal level. Every day, more time is wasted and less jobs are created. Let’s hope 2017 sees the government move in the right direction.