They paid big money up front to immigrate to Quebec — but face wait times of more than seven years

Sometimes the focus on individual stories misses the broader picture of the Quebec investor immigrant program being a backdoor to immigrants seeking to live in Toronto or Vancouver (How over 46,000 wealthy immigrants took a back door into Vancouver and Toronto’s housing markets).

One of the better decisions of the previous government was to cancel the business immigrant program given the evaluation showed that “their economic performance and extent to which BIs [business immigrants] had economically established is low compared to other economic classes considered.” Census data largely confirms the limited economic benefits and earnings of investor immigrants:

Pakistani entrepreneur Nazakat Nawaz had the money, so the process of moving to Quebec as an investor to start a new life in Canada seemed straightforward.

The province wanted net assets of $1.2 million, two years of management experience and a five-year, interest-free investment of $800,000 entrusted with the province. That was in 2016.

It took 18 months for Nawaz to be screened and issued a Certificat de Selection du Quebec by the Quebec government so he could be referred to the federal immigration department to complete the processing of his family’s permanent-residence application.

Today, after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of time in the process, the 45-year-old, his wife and their four children are still waiting in the United Arab Emirates, waiting.

“For the immigration department, it’s no problem to wait for a few years, but, for us, it’s our lives at stake,” says Nawaz, who has been running his own computer business since 2004.

His application was submitted to the federal immigration department in October 2018. His plan was to open an autobody shop in Quebec.

“Canada kept taking new immigration applications. If they didn’t have the processing capacity, why did they keep accepting new ones? It’s all because they’re greedy for more money. Just take our money and throw our applications in cold storage.”

The federal immigration department has been plagued by backlogs since the pandemic hit in March 2020, with global travel restrictions limiting the admission of newcomers and lockdowns hampering the processing of immigration applications here and abroad.

Like other provincial immigration programs for investor and entrepreneurs that vet and nominate their own applicants, those looking to migrate to Quebec must go through the same two-step process: Get a nomination from the province, then go through another round of screening and processing by the federal government to obtain permanent residence.

But Quebec-bound investors are facing a particularly long queue at both the provincial and federal levels.

The current processing time for the Quebec investor immigration program now stands at 65 months just at the federal end, up from 43 months in 2017. (The wait is six months for online applications and 25 months for paper applications in other parts of Canada.)

As of Jan. 23, there were some 14,000 people in the queue who had been referred by the Quebec government, most of them in the investor stream.

On the provincial front, the processing time has also crept up over the same period — from 21 months to 28 months, with a backlog of 1,075 applications in the system — compared to anywhere between four weeks and six months in other provinces, according to their websites.

In Quebec, that means the whole process adds up to a combined 93 months — more than seven years.

“Quebec sets its own annual immigration thresholds, and we receive more applications than the number of spaces that Quebec has allocated for the Quebec Business Class program,” said federal immigration department spokesperson Rémi Larivière.

“The number of applications that we process cannot exceed the number of spaces that Quebec has allocated for this program.”

After coming into power in late 2018, the Coalition Avenir Québec or CAQ reduced the province’s annual immigration intake by 20 per cent to 40,000. It set an annual quota of 3,400 for its business immigration program, which covers the entrepreneur, investor and self-employed streams.

It’s not known how much the delay to the processing applications is a result of the province’s reduced intake or COVID-related disruption with its federal counterparts. However, after failing to meet even its lower target during the pandemic, the Quebec government this year has raised it aims and wants to admit 52,500 new permanent residents, including 4,000 to 4,300 under its business immigration program.

According to federal officials, the overall backlog for the Quebec business immigration category has actually decreased in the past five years.

Due to the pandemic travel restrictions, at the request of the province, federal officials have prioritized the processing of applicants from Quebec who were already in Canada in order to maximize admissions to meet Quebec’s target. That hurts the business class applicants: “More than 95 per cent of applicants in the Quebec business class reside abroad,” said Larivière.

Alain Ayache, a spokesperson with Quebec’s Ministry of Immigration, Frenchisation and Integration, said the province’s admission targets are determined based on its immigration objectives and integration capacity to meet its “socioeconomic needs.”

“These targets were established to reduce the waiting periods for the applicants, more specifically by reducing the number of applications to the federal government waiting for permanent residence,” Ayache said.

Applicants under the Quebec investor program, meanwhile, are left confused and frustrated.

Before submitting a permanent-resident application to the federal immigration department, Nazwaz, like other applicants accepted by Quebec at the time, was required to deposit $800,000 for the five-year investment, either directly in cash or financed by paying a non-refundable fee — about $230,000 — to a designated financial institution. (The five-year term investment requirement has since been raised to $1,200,000.)

“We contacted the Quebec government and they said the federal government is responsible for processing and delays. When we contacted the federal government, they said Quebec gave them a quota to process applications,” said Nawaz.

“All I can say is they have ruined our lives. Everybody got their share of money and we are left with empty promises.”

Anup Kishin Gandhi was 45 when he applied under the Quebec program in 2018. A year later, he was selected and issued the selection certificate from the province. He immediately applied to the federal immigration for permanent residence.

“The stress is that when we started the process, I was 45 and I was expecting to settle by 50 and start my business, but today, I have no idea where my file is,” said Gandhi, now 49, who is from India but works in Abu Dhabi as a vice-president in human resources for a French energy company.

“Any delay is going to make it difficult for me (at my age) to start a business and to sustain. It would require a minimum four to five years to build a successful business. If I start something at 55, it’s near impossible.”

Gandhi said he has lived all his life in the United Arab Emirates but his family’s status there hinges on his job and they would have to leave and return to India if he is ever no longer employed there.

“I wanted my children not to have similar situations. Accordingly we all decided to immigrate to Canada, where there is security, safety and equal opportunities,” said Gandhi, whose 17-year-old twin boys, Maaluv and Mankush, have been studying French and were hoping to study medicine at McGill University.

Naween Verma said he applied to the same program in Quebec in 2015 and came to Canada for an interview two years later. After making his deposit, he got the selection certificate for his family and applied to the federal government in September 2017.

“Both governments are playing the blame game. Quebec already got our money and now they don’t care about us. The federal government thinks we gave money to Quebec, not them, so we are not a priority,” said the 50-year-old man, who runs a company in New Delhi that helps build infrastructure like bridges, roads and industrial buildings.

“We have already contributed so much money in the Canadian economy even before we get to go to the country. We don’t know what the future holds for us.”

Another Indian applicant, Preet Mann, 53, has paid $10,000 to hire a consultant to help with the application and another $15,000 just for the application fee under the Quebec investor stream. He has also sent his 21-year-old son to study in Montreal as an international student in preparing for settlement in the province.

The family was approved and issued the selection certificate from Quebec in 2017. By the end of that year, the federal immigration department confirmed the receipt of their application, which has been stalled since.

“We cannot deny that the global pandemic has disrupted the immigration system to some extent, but we had applied in 2017, surely a delay of more than four years cannot be attributed to the pandemic alone,” said Mann, who is the head of the marine department of a Japanese oil and gas company.

“The ever increasing processing times are creating havoc for cases like ours. We have given Canada our very hard earned money and there is no turning back for us now.”

Source: They paid big money up front to immigrate to Quebec — but face wait times of more than seven years

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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