BY TOBI COHEN, POSTMEDIA NEWS MARCH 16, 2012
Canada is planning to overhaul its popular Immigrant Investor Program that is so attractive to newcomers that some chartered private planes last year to be first to submit their application when the program opened after Citizenship and Immigration Canada capped intake at 700 cases in an effort to manage demand.
Within 30 minutes the pro-gram - which fast-tracks permanent residency for those who can afford it - was closed for the year.
In an interview with Postmedia News, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the $800,000 minimum investment required under the cur-rent system is simply too low and that it's time to consider making it a permanent contribution to the Canadian economy rather than just a loan.
Right now provinces that accept immigrant investors - predominantly Ontario and British Columbia - get the cash to invest in economic development projects but must pay back the principal five years later. Kenney said a lot of it ends up lying dormant in accounts, particularly in Ontario, which is sitting on nearly $1 billion despite a $16-billion deficit.
"I've always said that I believe Canada has been underselling itself through our Immigrant Investor Program," Kenney said.
"They get permanent residency in the best country in the world for lending Canadian governments $800,000 for five years ... so it seems to me, given there are millions of millionaires around the world who would love to come to Canada, we can do better than that and we're looking at ways we can redesign the program to extract more bang for the buck."
Making it an "active" investment in which participants have to show that they've created a certain number of jobs and one they won't get back are some of the options the government is considering.
Noting Australia and the United States have set the minimum investment at $1 mil-lion, while the United Kingdom requires immigrant investors to contribute at least one million pounds, about $1.6 million in Canadian dollars, Kenney said Canada is also looking to raise its "price point."
"To be honest, it's not an investor program, it's permanent residency for a loan and I just think that maybe we should have a real investor program that brings real capital and ensures that we retain it and that it grows jobs and the economy," he said.
Meanwhile, figures obtained by Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland indicate that between October 2010 and September 2011, Canada approved nearly 3,000 cases and issued a total of 10,246 visas to applicants and their families. The vast majority of approved cases came from Hong Kong, followed at a distance by Taipei, Damascus, London and Seoul.
As of last September, the backlog in immigrant investor applications stood at 88,555.
The government instituted the 700 cap last year in an effort to align application intake with processing timelines and in 2010 it doubled the minimum investment from $400,000 and set a net worth requirement of $1.6 million.
"The fundamental problem is we're marketing our visas at too low a price," Kurland said, adding a $4-million net worth and $1.5 million investment is a good place to start.
"We should benchmark very high and ratchet down until we reach the right balance."
Kenney says the new program should be in place by the end of the year. While the program opens again to applications in July, Kurland said the government should wait until the new program is in place.