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Immigration consultant Larry Wang, centre, speaks to Chinese millionaires on March 4, 2014, as they make a plea to the Canadian government to ditch its plans to end its backlogged investor immigrant program.Andy Wong/The Associated Press

A Federal Court judge has ruled against more than 1,000 Chinese millionaires who tried to immigrate to Canada under the now-scrapped immigrant investor program and then tried to force their way in through the courts.

As Canada's immigrant investor program became increasingly popular with China's nouveaux riches, the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong was deluged by eager applicants. Eventually, the backlog swelled to more than 80,000 applications, with about 80 per cent of them filed in Hong Kong by wealthy would-be immigrants from mainland China. Roughly 50,000 of those were applicants destined for British Columbia.

Then, in the last federal budget, the government killed the program and said the backlog of applicants would be wiped out – prompting more than 1,000 court orders filed on behalf of wealthy Chinese, as well as some others from Turkey and elsewhere, who argued that their applications should still be processed.

This week, a Federal Court judge dismissed the cases en masse.

Justice Mary Gleason ruled that would-be investor immigrants to Canada – such as Jia Baoxian, who was named in the suit along with 95 others, as well as more than 1,000 similar applicants who were not named – had no legitimate expectation of a visa or Canadian residency, and that the government acted within the law. First, the program was closed to new applicants as it was inundated, and the government eventually ended the existing program entirely.

"[T]here is no absolute right to the issuance of a visa following the mere fact of having made an application," Justice Gleason wrote in her ruling.

The federal immigrant investor program allowed foreigners with a net worth of at least $1.6-million to gain a visa and eventually Canadian residency by offering the government an interest-free loan of $800,000. The government said the program was susceptible to fraud, and that many of those who used the program had only "tenuous" ties to the country.

The program, which was broadly criticized as flawed and inefficient, is being replaced by new pilot programs. These are likely to be launched in the fall with a higher net worth threshold and a much larger loan – closer in line with other countries – which would be invested with Canadian startups or venture capital firms, says Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver who has appeared before the Senate as an expert witness on immigration.

Mr. Kurland said the large number of applicants was a result of immigration agents, mainly in Hong Kong and China, who were pushing the cases in a last-ditch attempt to gain their commissions. He said he was not at all surprised by the ruling, but that he has consistently been surprised by the provinces of B.C. and Ontario, which have failed to come forward with new immigrant investor programs of their own despite Quebec maintaining a program that brings in more than 2,000 wealthy investors each year.

Mr. Kurland notes that roughly 90 per cent of those who apply through Quebec eventually make their way to B.C., where Vancouver has long been a destination for Asian migration and capital.

"The bulk of the federal investor immigrants were basically B.C. and Ontario – and Ontario, that's shrieking for more money in bad times," Mr. Kurland said. "How come they don't have an investor immigrant program? And B.C. just lost money. By not doing it, they forfeited the amount Quebec obtained. I don't get it."

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