Stephen Green is a Managing Partner at Green and Spiegel and past chair of the Canadian Bar Association, National Section, Citizenship and Immigration
From the earliest days of Confederation, immigration has been essential to Canada’s evolution and identity as a country. The labour – and tax dollars – of successive waves of people from around the world have supported universal health care, pension plans, education, national infrastructure, and the creation of small businesses and employment.
The economic stress caused by a global pandemic, on top of the dual realities of an aging population and a slow-growing population, make immigration more important than ever. It is also an opportune time for Canada to revive the investor immigrant program that was terminated in 2014, with a view to integrating it into our long-term economic strategy.
The federal government has clearly flagged that expediting immigration to Canada is a priority over the next several years.
In addition to setting a target to welcome 401,000 permanent residents in 2021, Ottawa recently made it easier for Hong Kong students and youth to quickly come to Canada on work and study permits, as well as offering new ways to stay permanently. The new permanent residence rules will also benefit people from Hong Kong already in Canada under existing work and study permits.
Then there’s the 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong, many of whom, in light of recent political developments there, may be contemplating a return.
Also consider that although many applications were delayed by COVID-19, most are already well down the approval pipe and will proceed quickly once embassies and visa agencies fully reopen. Ottawa has already flagged that it will work to fast-track increased admission to Canada in 2021.
For all of that, there is much more that can be done for both prospective immigrants and Canada. At the top of that list is a practical reassessment of the investor immigrant class.
In 2020, the practical benefits of reviving the program far outweigh any misplaced concern about those “buying” Canadian citizenship.
Let’s not be hypocritical: Those of us already fortunate enough to live here stand to benefit as much as anyone who is new to the country.
The key to making it work this time around is to be clear-eyed about past failures, to refine the tax structure and better manage the five-year deposits required by these immigrant investors. It does not seem excessive to increase the $800,000 fee that was required before the Harper government cancelled the program. But in the past, those deposits were directed to provinces to foster the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises – a well-intentioned initiative that never took shape.
By learning from that disappointing experience, Canada can win on several counts.
It can seize opportunity to create a COVID-19 fund to help offset the economic cost of the coronavirus and attract immigrants who have the means to make a big difference in short order.
It can also attract a group of educated and financially secure immigrants who, along with their families, will make a lasting contribution to our economy. It is also an opportunity to bring regional and local governments into the process to ensure the funds are put to the best use.
Nowhere would that difference be felt more immediately than in the stabilization of the domestic residential real estate market, small business and employment, something of great importance to all Canadians and their families.
For some time now, there have been claims that housing markets, especially condominiums in urban centres, are threatened by an imbalance of supply and demand.
That’s a tough prospect for municipalities and provinces that have already been economically ravaged by the effect of the coronavirus.
Higher immigration levels – especially in the economic class – address this on a number of levels.
Furthermore, while much has been made of the pandemic-driven urban exodus, new Canadians tend to gravitate to and revitalize our cities.
Immigration is an important way for Canada to build long-term economic, social and cultural bridges around the world. Does anyone think it will be anything but beneficial to our relations with Washington that vice-president-elect Kamala Harris had such a positive experience as a student in Montreal?
We have always been justifiably proud of being a country of immigrants. Clearing the 2020 backlog, expediting new permanent residency applications and reinstating the investor immigrant class is both timely and strategic at a time when we need to reinforce our country as seldom before, and to ensure the long-term prosperity of all Canadians.
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