Chinese millionaires given just two weeks in scramble for Canada investor visas

Sharp cut-off raises concerns over Ottawa's new migration scheme, as language rules are said to weigh against Chinese applicants

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 January, 2015, 6:17am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 January, 2015, 1:38am

Ottawa has given wealthy would-be immigrants a maximum of just two weeks from today in which to apply for its new millionaire visa scheme, potentially setting off a race among the world's rich seeking coveted Canadian permanent residency.

But there are doubts about whether the tight schedule gives applicants enough time, with one prominent immigration lawyer suggesting Canadian authorities may be "disinterested in filling their quota".

The Immigrant Investor Venture Capital (IIVC) scheme - which will grant permanent residency to immigrants worth at least C$10 million (HK$62 million) who are willing to hand over C$2 million to be invested in companies of Ottawa's choosing - will only be open for applications until February 11 or until the annual quota of 500 applications is received worldwide, whichever comes first.

A maximum of 60 applicants will then be approved, after a lottery decides which of the applications will be assessed. Canada previously said about 50 applicants would be chosen, surprising many with its tiny scale.

The deadlines and selection rules were revealed on Saturday when immigration minister Chris Alexander's instructions on the IIVC scheme were gazetted by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

Wealth migration to Canada has recently been dominated by mainland Chinese millionaires, who made up a large majority of applicants under the now-defunct Immigrant Investor Programme. But the IIP was shut down last year after a massive backlog of tens of thousands of mainland Chinese applications developed at Canada's consulate-general in Hong Kong. There were also doubts about how beneficial the immigrants admitted under the scheme had been to the Canadian economy since the IIP was launched in 1986.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Ryan Rosenberg, managing partner of Larlee Rosenberg, questioned the "sincerity" of CIC's dedication to the IIVC scheme.

"CIC is either vastly over-estimating demand, for what is a very expensive programme, or is genuinely disinterested in filling their quota," Rosenberg said.

"Initial feedback from our clients has been very negative about the investment thresholds and I think that CIC will be hard-pressed to fill their quota in such a short period of time."

The new scheme includes a requirement that applicants have proficiency in English or French, and that they have a Canadian tertiary educational qualification, or a foreign equivalent. Ultra-rich applicants worth at least C$50 million are exempt from the education rule, but not the language requirement.

Hong Kong-based immigration lawyer Jean-Francois Harvey, managing partner of the Harvey Law Group, said the new rules appeared to place significant hurdles in front of Chinese applicants.

"The C$50 million option to avoid the education requirement is one of interest but offers little help in view of the reality on the ground, since the language requirement is still there. Therefore … I believe that applicants from China and Southeast Asia are greatly penalised," Harvey said.

The ministerial instructions have been put in place until 2020, dampening hopes that the rules for what is being touted as a pilot scheme might soon be loosened.

The instructions also named the six accounting firms that will conduct forensic audits on all selected applicants to ensure that they satisfy the scheme's wealth requirements, and that their fortunes have been "lawfully acquired through business or investment activity". The firms are Deloitte Forensic, Ernst & Young, BDO USA, Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Consulting, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Harvey said the list was "disappointing" because of the lack of any "specialised regional due-diligence company".

Unlike the C$800,000 investment required under the old IIP - which took the form of a guaranteed interest-free loan to Canada - the C$2 million investment required under the IIVC scheme will be at risk and subject to losses. The cash will be "actively invested in Canadian start-ups with high growth potential" for about 15 years, CIC said.

CIC's overview of the ministerial instructions said they were "intended to attract immigrant investors … prepared to integrate into the Canadian business landscape and society".