Reasonable Doubt: Can you buy your way into Canada?

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      Once upon a time (last year), if you were worth $1.6 million and willing to make a $800,000 five-year, interest-free loan to Canada, you could have been on your way to a fabulous life in a Canadian city of your choice—like Red Deer! Or Kamloops! Or Okotoks!

      The federal Immigrant Investor Program (IIP) allowed foreigners with some business experience to make a passive investment in Canada in exchange for permanent resident status. The money invested was purportedly used by a participating province for job creation and economic growth. Five years later, the money was returned by the province or territory to the investor.

      Now, it’s not so easy to buy your way into Canada.

      Last July, a moratorium was placed on the IIP and new applications are currently not being accepted. Applications still in the queue are taking upwards of five years to process. In the interim, all those offshore millionaires are forced to find other ways to spend their money.

      So what options are available to rich foreigners who just want to live in Canada?

      In short: not many. Both the federal and provincial governments have investment immigration programs, but both levels of governments have moved away from the passive investment schemes, and are requiring immigrant investors to not only invest in a specific business, but also to participate in its day-to-day management.

      The would-be investor typically must demonstrate that he or she has the experience to run their proposed business. The focus is less on the amount of money invested in Canada, and more on the number of jobs created and the viability of the proposed business.

      In British Columbia, for example, all investor immigration options require the would-be investor to actively manage the business and to create new jobs for Canadians or permanent residents. The provincial programs that require hands-on business management require a significantly smaller investment than the former IIP.

      Potential immigrant investors looking to set up shop in the Vancouver or Abbotsford areas must have a personal net worth of at least $800,000 and commit to invest $400,000 into a business. The investor’s business has to create a minimum of three jobs.

      Investors willing to go elsewhere in B.C. only require a personal net worth of $400,000 and a minimum investment of $200,000. The business need only create one new job.

      If an investor is not interested in starting a new business, there are programs for investors willing to buy out an existing, established business. There is also a program whereby a foreign-controlled company may expand or establish operations in B.C., and may bring in as many as five key foreign staff members. Each of these programs has its own specific requirements for minimum job creation and investment.

      The B.C. investor immigrant programs are more stringent than one may think. There are strict requirements with respect to the investor’s minimum equity ownership, and how much of the investment funds can go to share versus asset purchases and real estate.

      B.C. even dictates the type of business that qualifies: no bed and breakfasts, pawnbrokers, cash machines, automated car washes, laundromats, insurance/real estate/business brokerages, hobby farms, home-based businesses, or porn production companies allowed. (I can only speculate as to how this list of ineligible businesses was created, but I find the strange and wonderful mix fascinating.)

      While B.C. used to have a “fast-track option” whereby an investor could make a $125,000 interest-free loan to the province to get to the front of the queue, this “greasing the bouncer” option is no longer available. Investors must also prove their money was earned legally. Gangsters banking on starting a grocery store in Peachland with their drug money are out of luck.

      With the launch of its new Start-Up Visa Program set for April 1, it is clear that the federal government has also shifted its focus from the passive investor to the entrepreneur immigrant. The program is geared to assist foreign entrepreneurs working with designated venture capital organizations or angel investors to receive permanent resident status on an expedited basis.

      Money alone will not be enough to obtain status in Canada, nor is it simply a matter of buying an apartment building in Campbell River and skipping to the border to collect a PR card. Would-be investors immigrants now must prove they have the skills, the business-savvy, and the money to gain immigration status in Canada.

      Carmen Hamilton is an immigration and civil litigation lawyer at Singleton Urquhart LLP. Reasonable Doubt appears on on Fridays. You can send your questions for the column to its writers at

      A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.


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      Save Vancouver

      Mar 29, 2013 at 10:56am

      Countdown to Stephen Hui showing up to tell us all how racist these changes are. LOL.

      They should completely scrap all these programs. Come in on the points system like everyone else, or buy Canadian stocks, but don't sell citizenship.


      Mar 29, 2013 at 2:42pm

      Its about time! Isnt it like closing the barn door after the cows has left. Also I would like to see limited foreign ownership (49% max.) of real estate like so many other countries have.


      Mar 29, 2013 at 4:56pm

      Hopefully these ridiculous programs are gone for good. They did nothing to promote integration and let rich foreigners create their own wealthy ghettos. Now maybe, they will have to make an effort to learn English and actually contribute something positive to Canada.

      Galaxy S4

      Mar 29, 2013 at 7:13pm

      I guess spas & massage parlors are still OK because they're not on the list of ineligible businesses.

      Anything to stimulate the economy, eh?


      Mar 30, 2013 at 3:51pm

      Wow, really? Open your eyes people. This article is so inaccurate it's funny. Nothing stop the rich from coming. You don't have to be a PR to live in Canada

      Dan Lee Scott

      Apr 2, 2013 at 4:56pm

      Good Artical , I,ve knowen about this since the early eighties and I think its about time , the Goverment changed its policy.
      Why should only the rich be allowed into to Canada?

      Max Donzella

      May 1, 2013 at 7:25am

      Sorry to say , but I have obtained Permanent Residency for dozens of Immigrant Investors from several continents through the Quebec Investor Program and all these articles are misleading and in general YOU cannot lose your PR even if you don't create your theoretical project under any entrepreneur programs. There is not difference at the end between investors and entrepreneurs concerning the impact on the economy. Anyone wanting to understand the reality of this program should not hesitate to write to me.