The Canadian government is poised to relaunch a program that grants permanent residency to foreign millionaires but a veteran immigration lawyer says he fears Ottawa is still underpricing what amounts to a path to citizenship.
Ottawa announced in February it would end the decades-old Immigrant Investor Program, saying the $800,000 investment required of newcomers, as well as other conditions, "significantly undervalued Canadian permanent residence."
In the 2014 budget, the federal government said it would replace the program with one that would require foreign applicants to make a venture capital investment in early-stage startup companies. This is an effort to ensure the money applicants invest in Canada has greater economic impact than the old program, which required foreigners to make what amounted to an interest-free loan to the government.
Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based lawyer with decades of experience in the field, said he expects an announcement from Immigration Minister Chris Alexander within two weeks and predicts the minimum investment required under the revamped program will be about $1.5-million.
He suggests Canada aim much higher, starting at the $2-million level. From there, he recommends Ottawa experiment with trying to raise the required cash outlay to even greater heights.
"One-and-a-half million dollars? What is that? A condo and a half in Shanghai?" Mr. Kurland said. "Ratchet it up to $2.5-million to $3-million for investment and wait to see if over a five-month period, six-month period, there are still some empty spaces on the board."
Mr. Kurland said Canada should price its permanent-resident card based on the idea it's bargaining from a position of strength.
"The demand for millionaire visas outstrips the supply of millionaire visas – that is the strategic starting point," he says.
"We're still selling five-dollar slices of pie for fifty cents."
Johanne Nadeau, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, declined to comment on the required investment level for the new program, saying the first step will be a pilot project geared at ensuring "immigrants who come to Canada deliver meaningful benefits to our economy."
The Immigrant Investor Program, founded in 1986, has been primarily used by Chinese immigrants – from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. Key drivers over the years include upheaval after the crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Beijing, and the growth of the millionaire class in China.
Prospective immigrants from the People's Republic of China comprised more than 80 per cent of applicants when the program last took applications.
Former immigration minister Sergio Marchi said he thinks Canada should set the required investment at $1.5-million, and not higher, to remain competitive with the roughly 20 other countries that offer similar programs in exchange for permanent residency or citizenship.
Mr. Marchi said wealthy Chinese are leaving to ensure their children get a "first-class education" overseas, to safeguard their gains and for a better quality of life.
He suggests Ottawa also consider giving out permanent residency for foreigners who invest in Canadian infrastructure projects.
The immigration department's Ms. Nadeau said the revamped initiative will complement Ottawa's recent Start-Up Visa program, which offers permanent residency to foreign entrepreneurs who succeed in getting a certain level of investment from Canadian venture capital funds or investors.