The Hongcouver
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Study reveals awfulness of Canadian investor immigration; income tax averages C$1,400 per millionaire

British Columbia ends up housing ten times more rich newcomers than Quebec – but Quebec gets ten times more of their ‘investment’ than BC

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 5:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 May, 2016, 12:00pm

At last week’s “emergency meeting” on Vancouver housing affordability, local MLA David Eby struck a chord in his opening remarks.

“We have every reason to welcome immigration from China and all over the world; it’s what built British Columbia…but no matter what, extreme wealth should not put you at the front of the line for immigration,” said Eby, of the left-leaning NDP, to long applause.

Many Vancouverites, ethnically Chinese and non-so alike, understand on an instinctive level that selling permanent residency and passports is a Bad Idea. But I doubt many are aware of the precise awfulness of the Immigrant Investor Program (IIP) and the Quebec IIP that have brought tens of thousands of millionaire households to the city for the past 30 years.

In so doing, these schemes have likely driven up real estate prices and unaffordability, research has found.

Yet other resultant economic activity is scant – in fact, investor migrants’ favourite “business” is real estate ownership.

Average annual income tax paid by millionaire migrants was C$1,400. No, that isn’t missing a zero

That’s just one finding of a Federal government evaluation of the Chinese-dominated investor schemes, quietly published in October 2014. I can find no reference to the 103-page report in any media; two leading academics who have studied the schemes for years were unaware of it before I forwarded it to them this week.

A skinny internal report on immigrant employment earnings, dating from 2012, gave a hint of what many suspected about the investor schemes, whose only real requirement of applicants was a willingness to hand over a pile of cash (latterly, C$800,000) as a five-year loan to Canada. But the latest data is depressingly comprehensive.

Canada’s millionaire migrants earn less than refugees

Among other things it reveals that 10 years after admission, the average annual income tax paid by millionaire migrants’ primary breadwinners was C$1,400. No, that isn’t missing a zero. The true average is even lower - since one third did not file tax returns.

Compare that to the C$10,900 paid by skilled worker immigrants, or the C$7,500 paid by Canadians on average.

Millionaire migrants’ average taxable income from all sources peaks at C$19,500 three years after arrival, but then defies the trend of other immigrant classes by falling sharply, to C$15,800 after 10 years. The report notes “increasing rates of out-migration after five years (especially among investors) may indicate a relationship with obtaining citizenship … a share of these immigrants wait to obtain Canadian citizenship to move out of the country.”

The Quebec backdoor: still open, still ripping off BC

Why does this matter? Wasn’t the federal IIP shut down? Yes, but the QIIP continues to operate and has always been the biggest component of investor migration to Canada. In fact, with 1,750 applications accepted annually, and a hefty backlog, Quebec’s immigration department is on track to funnel about 1,400 new millionaire households to Vancouver per year; that’s down from the 2011 peak, but is about the same average level the city received under both the federal and Quebec schemes in the past decade.

Millionaire migration didn’t fall after investor scheme’s axing

The latest report provides more evidence of how rich immigrants have been using Quebec as a backdoor to BC.

It says a majority (50.7 per cent) of all supposed business immigrants to Quebec (mostly QIIP, but some self-employed and entrepreneur immigrants) from 1995-2010 actually ended up living in BC, according to their 2010 tax returns.

The upshot? Quebec has charged investor migrants billions in loans for the right to live in Vancouver

Only 16 per cent of Quebec business immigrants lived there in 2010. These numbers are consistent with previous data, from permanent residency card renewals, showing 89 per cent of QIIP immigrants leave the French-speaking province.

The upshot? Quebec has charged investor migrants billions in loans for the right to live in Vancouver.

The latest report shows Quebec received C$3.75 billion in QIIP “investments” from 2007-2011, representing 58 per cent of the entire IIP/QIIP cash take. Yet the residency card data suggests only 6.4 per cent ended up living there.

For hapless BC, the situation is reversed: Victoria received just 5.7 per cent of the cash, at C$366million, but BC ended up housing about 62 per cent of the immigrants (including an estimated 59 per cent of QIIP migrants and 65.8 per cent of federal migrants).

Favourite business? Real estate

The stated objective of millionaire migration (and other business-class migration) is to strengthen Canada’s economy, and for such immigrants to become economically established in Canada.

But it turns out that investor migrants aren’t declaring much income - so how have they been occupying themselves?

The study finds only 10 per cent of millionaire migrants declare ANY self-employment business activity. However, their single most popular Canadian business activity, by a huge margin, is real estate rentals and ownership.

Real estate rental operations made up 63.1 per cent of all their unincorporated businesses. Including incorporated firms, real estate and rentals represented 48.8 per cent of investor migrant businesses.

The list of categories in which investor migration fails to impress is long and wearying. Investors have the highest rates of outward migration from Canada among categories listed by the report, at 26.2 per cent after 10 years. They have far worse English or French skills than most of their fellow migrants, with 66 per cent speaking neither. And the average number of employees in an investor immigrant business? One.

So why do millionaires immigrate to Canada at all? Immigration caseworkers were asked as part of the study. They expressed concern that business immigrants, and especially investors, “use the program to obtain citizenship, as an insurance policy in the case of political or economic uncertainty in their home country, without having the intention to reside in Canada”.

The lowest bar of expectation

Blame for all this doesn’t really lie with the individual immigrants, the study concludes. “Although the economic performance of BIs [business immigrants] was lower than that of other economic classes considered by the evaluation, BIs met the expectations for which they were selected,” it says.

Post-arrival, those expectations imposed upon investor migrants are described by the study as “none”.

This sets the lowest of bars for a substantial cohort. From inception in 1986 to 2014, the IIP and QIIP brought 190,487 wealthy immigrants to Canada, and most ended up in Vancouver. An official figure is unavailable, but given that two-thirds of Federal IIP arrivals settle in BC, and the vast majority of Quebec arrivals promptly flee the French-speaking province, around 120,000 millionaire migrants have likely moved to Vancouver under both IIPs, a large majority of them from greater China. UBC’s professor David Ley estimates 200,000 under the three streams of the business program from 1980 to 2012.

Despite the litany of failures it outlines, the federal evaluation comes down broadly in favour of continuing business and investor migration, albeit with some suggestions. These included increasing the C$800,000 IIP investment as high as C$3 million and directing this capital to at-risk investment instead of simply returning it intact after five years.

Yet none of this changes the fundamental message wealth-determined migration sends to applicants and society as a whole – that Canadian citizenship is for sale, and that once you are in, it just doesn’t matter how you behave economically.

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The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email ian.young@scmp.com or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.