Provinces need to nix immigrant-investor visas

Nothing really new here in Alan Freeman’s commentary but well stated:

It’s time Canadian provinces stopped selling visas to the highest bidder.

They’re known as immigrant-investor visas, which promise wealthy migrants permanent residence and a path to Canadian citizenship in return for actively investing in a Canadian business or lending money to a provincial government. 

But in reality, these visa programs are simply fancy schemes to sell Canadian passports to wealthy businesspeople, mainly from mainland China, who want a bolt-hole for their family and often have little intention of ever settling in Canada, aside from buying a pricey condo in Vancouver or Toronto and leaving it empty. 

What’s worse, these schemes are an invitation to the unscrupulous to use Canada as a place to launder money, and encourage a slimy network of immigration counsellors, questionable lawyers and investment advisers to collect big fees from would-be migrants.

The fact that Canadian provinces — Quebec, in particular — have been actively courting this trade is an embarrassment and a massive failure of public policy, with shades of corruption thrown in.

The federal government wisely got out of the immigrant-investor visa business in 2014 but several provinces, through the so-called provincial nominee programs, kept them going. Prince Edward Island is a case in point.

Earlier this month, P.E.I. decided to shut down the entrepreneur stream of its provincial nominee program after a new scandal engulfed it, 10 years after a similar program in the province was shut down in the wake of irregularities.

Canada Border Services Agency recently charged two hoteliers in Charlottetown under the Immigration Act with providing fake addresses to 566 new immigrants to the province between 2008 and 2015 who declared the Sherwood Motel as their principal residence. Must have been pretty crowded. 

Under the P.E.I. scheme, would-be immigrants had to make a $200,000 provincial deposit to the province, refundable if they set up a business there, chump change for these would-be Canadians. Last November, the government said that two-thirds of participants had forfeited their deposits because they hadn’t followed through and set up businesses in the province.

It was clear to anybody who was looking that these so-called immigrant investors never intended to set up a souvenir shop or convenience store in Charlottetown or Summerside. They simply wanted a back-door route into Canada so they could set themselves or their children up in Markham or Richmond. P.E.I. officials and politicians, in their desperation to attract immigrants, have been shown to be rubes of the first order.

The Quebec Immigrant Investor Program is bigger and the abuse has been even more flagrant, as demonstrated in a fabulous investigative report this month by the Radio-Canada TV show, Enquête.

The program documents the underbelly of the Quebec program as a conduit for wealthy Chinese businesspeople to buy permanent residency in Canada by stating their intention to settle in Quebec, and seldom even setting foot there. An estimated 85 per cent of the thousands of investors who have passed through the program since 1986 have gone to Ontario and B.C.

In its report, Enquête created Mr. Chen, a would-be investor in Quebec from mainland China and secretly filmed him as he made the rounds of immigration lawyers and consultants in Hong Kong who specialize in the Quebec program. It’s an eye-opener.

When Mr. Chen tells these advisers that he doesn’t intend to live in Quebec, even though it’s a pre-condition of the program, he’s told it’s not a problem. One lawyer suggests he rent an apartment for three months in Montreal to prove he has a Quebec address and leave it vacant. And if that’s too expensive, the lawyer suggests giving the Montreal address of his law firm as the immigrant’s residence.

When Mr. Chen admits the source of his assets isn’t squeaky-clean and he actually runs a pawn shop and money-lending business on the side, one adviser suggests he hide his problem assets in the British Virgin Islands or even procure a second identity by buying a passport in one of the Caribbean islands that will sell one to anybody with cash. “You may be Mr. Chen, but you can change your name to Bruce Lee,” says the paralegal, who identifies herself as a lawyer.

If experience in other jurisdictions is any indicator, these programs are toxic, attract the wrong type of people and seldom reach their economic goals. 

South of the border, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently shut down the EB-5 immigrant-investor program in Vermont after the failure of state officials to stop promoters of the Jay Peak ski resort from misusing US$200 million in immigrant-investor money that flowed into a series of questionable projects. 

In Australia, the Productivity Commission, an independent federal advisory agency, recommended in 2016 that its “significant investor visa” program be scrapped after Austrac, the agency that tracks money laundering, said there were “difficulties in identifying the sources of funds and wealth for customers on significant investment visas, as this wealth is often acquired in foreign jurisdictions.” The Commission said there were minimal benefits from the program and “any benefits accrue mainly to those visa holders and fund managers.”

Australia has since significantly boosted the minimum investment required — to $5 million — and tightened oversight of the program. The result is that there are a lot fewer takers. Why bother with Australia if you can get to Canada through the Quebec scheme, which only requires participants to lend $1.2 million for five years to the Quebec government, interest-free?

While it’s true that the Atlantic provinces and Quebec have major problems attracting and retaining immigrants, it’s an illusion to think that the way to improve these numbers is by selling visas to wealthy migrants. In fact, these are the last people who want to settle in Corner Brook or Drummondville.

The major advantage of these places is the fact that they’re actually not as wealthy as Canada’s big cities, that housing is affordable, and they’re actually easier places to start a new life in Canada. Manitoba has shown that it’s possible to attract hard-working immigrants from places like the Philippines who will make real contributions to society rather than use Canada as a place to stash ill-gotten gains. 

Canada is one of the most attractive places in the world for immigrants to settle. Selling visas and passports is humiliating and counter-productive.

Source: Provinces need to nix immigrant-investor visas

Sponsored travel helping Israel win over Canadian MPs

Good piece in iPolitics on the influence of sponsored travel, focussing on Israel but not unique (i.e., Taiwan):

Independent MP Brent Rathgeber says he enthusiastically accepted the chance to visit Israel when he was invited in 2010.

“It was a fascinating trip. It was a great trip. I learned a great deal on all aspects of it. I grew up in a Christian home and it was fascinating to visit the holy sites.”

Rathgeber says the trips deliver value for the CIJA and could be having an effect on the reaction of Canada’s MPs to the current conflict.

“The sponsors of these trips, although in fairness they try to provide some balance on the conflict, obviously have a goal in mind in the education that they provide by taking you there. So, I am not surprised that all of the major parties seem to have a certain perspective with respect to this ongoing conflict in Gaza.”

Norman Spector, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel, is among those who have met with MPs on trips sponsored at the time by the Canada Israel Committee.

Spector said he also set up meetings and tours for MPs when he was ambassador but his tours included elements he suspects the CIJA tours are lacking – like a wide range of Palestinian views including members of Hamas before it was declared a terrorist organization and some of the far right voices in Israel.

“I doubt that many MPs have been taken on these missions to a refugee camp in Nablus or if any has seen raw sewage flowing at Jabalya camp in Gaza.”

Sponsored travel helping Israel win over Canadian MPs. (pay wall)

The citizenship review: what to watch for | iPolitics

My opinion piece in iPolitics on the upcoming Canadian citizenship legislation (full article below as behind the iPolitics paywall):

Over the past five years, the federal government has engaged in a comprehensive policy renewal across the whole suite of immigration policies. The major remaining gap was in citizenship, where the government announced its intent in the 2013 throne speech:

Canadians understand that citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience. Citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history …

To strengthen and protect the value of Canadian citizenship, our Government will introduce the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act in more than a generation.

During the same period, and within existing legislation, the government nevertheless led an intense period of renewal of the citizenship program:

  • Issuing the new citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, and related citizenship test in 2010
  • Implementing new pre-qualification language requirements in 2012
  • Introducing a series of initiatives targeting residency fraud, starting in 2011
  • Increasing the public profile of the citizenship program and ceremonies, aligned to the messaging of Discover Canada
  • Supporting the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), and its work on strengthening the meaning of citizenship.

All of these reflect the government’s emphasis on making citizenship more meaningful, “harder to get and easier to lose”, to use former immigration minister Jason Kenney’s phrase — in contrast with previous governments’ emphasis on facilitating citizenship.

  • It is likely that the proposed Citizenship Act will continue to emphasize meaningfulness in the following areas, based upon previous bills tabled but not yet passed, and media coverage of ministerial comments:
  • Regulating citizenship consultants
  • Increasing penalties for citizenship fraud
  • Clarifying the definition of residency to mean physicalresidency, not just legal residency, and possibly increasing the required residency period from the current three years
  • Improving the government’s ability to bar criminals from becoming Canadian citizens
  • Streamlining the revocation and removal process
  • Ensuring a first-generation exemption for Crown servants
  • Possibly eliminating the current “birth on soil” grant of citizenship in favour of a more qualified right.

As the current Citizenship Act dates from the 1970s, the reformed act likely will be more in keeping with current drafting practice, giving ministers more authority and discretion compared to the extremely prescriptive current act, which goes into considerable detail on the citizenship application process and procedures.

While attention will be paid to the specific provisions in the new act, and the balance between facilitating acquisition of citizenship and making citizenship mean “ongoing commitment, connection and loyalty to Canada”, some of the broader issues to watch for include:

  • The balance between ministerial discretion and prescriptive measures in the act. While ministers and officials prefer to have more discretion, citizenship touches all Canadians and there can be advantages in having more constraints on ministers to ensure that changes enjoy wider support. The current act has a mix, specifying “adequate knowledge” of an official language and of “Canada and of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship”, defining these in regulations, not legislation, while the wording of the citizenship oath is in the Act itself
  • Close review of measures presented as “housekeeping,” to ensure that there are no unannounced or unanticipated substantive implications. Given the technical nature of much of citizenship policy, the devil is in the details
  • Whether the act, or related initiatives, seriously addresses the chronic and ongoing under-resourcing and under-management of the citizenship program, or whether the government is silent on these issues. In 2012, this, along with other changes, resulted in a drop of 37 per cent in new citizens, an example of poor program management. No government has properly resourced the citizenship program; typically the program gets a top-up once the backlog reaches an unacceptable level, as was the case in 2013 when $44 million was allocated in the budget
  • A real commitment to citizen service through meaningful service standards. Currently, it takes an average of over 2 years to acquire citizenship compared to Australia’s two months. Surely Canada should be able to do better, without compromising the integrity of the application process.

Beyond the specifics, the broader question of citizenship policy being faced by many governments is the balance between citizenship as “place” — assuming that citizens remain in their country of immigration — and citizenship as “status”, or a more instrumental view of citizenship as a means to secure employment and other rights.

In contrast to earlier waves of immigration — largely one-way, with limited and expensive two-way travel opportunities — today’s globalization enjoys free communications, low-cost travel, community-specific media (either Canadian or internationally-produced), all of which makes identities more fluid and complex. As governments try to reinforce a strong sense of Canadian identity, they come up against this reality — which is particularly the case for the more well-educated and trained immigrants that we aim to attract, and who tend to be more mobile.

Whether it be to pursue opportunities in their country of origin, or go back and forth to pursue business and other opportunities, citizenship policy has an impact on diaspora linkages and mobility. Make it too restrictive and the linkages may be underdeveloped — make it too easy and citizenship may be instrumental, without attachment.

Hopefully, once the draft bill is tabled, both parliamentary and public comment and discussion will engage in a broader debate about what kind of citizenship approach we want.

The citizenship review: what to watch for | iPolitics.