Deep pockets don’t help: Immigration reforms put super rich applicants in limbo

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Another group of potential Canadian immigrants with deep pockets is in limbo as the Conservative government revamps its immigration policy.

Last Spring, the federal government legislatively wiped out the backlog of applications under its Skilled Worker Program by cancelling 280,000 applications already in the pipeline. That move triggered a flurry of lawsuits, The Canadian Press reported last May.

The government announced changes to the program last August aimed at making it easier for newcomers to move smoothly into the workforce. Those who saw their existing applications cancelled were told they could reapply, essentially starting over after years in the process already.

But Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's reform plans have also put into limbo some more than 85,000 applications under the often-maligned Immigrant Investor Program, CBC News reported Monday. It stopped taking applications in July as it tried to reduce the existing backlog.

[ Related: Skilled immigrant backlog declining, will be eliminated by next year: Kenney ]

There's no sign yet the outstanding applications will be axed like those in the skilled-worker backlog but the uncertainty has participants feeling nervous.

Chinese businessman Jacob Zhou has been waiting since 2009 on the fate of his application to bring his multi-million-dollar auto-parts manufacturing operation to Ontario, along with his family.

Under the program as it was when Zhou applied, investors had to promise to pump $400,000 into a Canadian business and have an overall net worth of $800,000. The requirements have since doubled but it hasn't put off would-be immigrant investors, CBC News reported.

The backlog reached more than 91,000 — 26,000 investors and 65,000 family members — in 2011 but had dropped to 85,598 by last June. In the first half of this year, the government accepted 5,230 applications under the program and rejected 576, while 1,167 were withdrawn, CBC News said.

The program has come under fire from critics who see it as a way for wealthy immigrants to buy their way into Canada. The program in the Maritimes collapsed a year ago in a flurry of lawsuits, police investigation and scandal over mismanagement.

The Globe and Mail reported in September that Manitoba's auditor general was reviewing that province's part of the federal program, though there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

But Zhou said the uncertainty over the program's future is hard on him, his family and business partners.

"It's a little bit complicated for me right now," he told CBC News from Beijing.

Plans to expand their business have been postponed but the Zhous are still hopeful they will be able to come to Canada eventually.

"We have prepared this position for many years," Zhou said, noting he and his wife Jade have been looking for business opportunities in Canada while their teenage son, Jerry, works hard on learning English.

"We adjusted our lifestyle to fit in Canada in the future," said Zhou.

The Citizenship and Immigration Department said it's considering setting up new business-immigration programs that, if implemented, would complement, not replace, the existing one.

"Unlike the current program, which essentially requires a five-year interest-free loan to provincial governments, the investor would be actively involved in managing their investment and would bear the associated risk, for example, by providing venture capital to the private sector," a department spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

Meanwhile, Zhou is not standing pat. Toronto immigration lawyer Tim Leahy has filed documents in Federal Court on behalf of the Zhous and a handful of other investor applicants asking for a judicial order requiring the applications to be assessed within one year. If they aren't, Leahy's asking for $5 million in compensation, CBC News reported.

[Related: New immigration system puts greater emphasis on language, age]

Leahy said he agrees with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney that the investor program needs to be improved.

"But where I disagree with the minister is that you don't knife the people who have been in the queue."