Canada, a pioneer of residence by investment, launched its Immigrant Investor Program in 1986. In its early days, the program became popular with wealthy residents of Hong Kong, many of them anxious about the agreed 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule. Canada held particular appeal to investors from Hong Kong.
In 1993, a record year, Canada welcomed more than 3,000 principal immigrant investor applicants, and a total of more than 12,500 individuals when including spouses and dependents. Of these, more than 5,200 were from Hong Kong.
Uptake for the program was lower from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, averaging around 1,350 principal applicants and 3,680 family members per year. Applications from 2005 to 2012 were higher, with an average of around 2,630 main applicants and 6,880 family members per year.
In July 2012, the federal government suspended the program, and, in February 2014, having cleared only part of the backlog of applications, announced it was closing the program, eventually cancelling 65,000 backlogged applications and refunding application fees.
Introduced in its place was a business skills program and a venture capital program, known as the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Pilot Program. Investors are required to be proficient in English or French, have a tertiary education, have proven business experience, have a net worth of C$10 million, and be willing to invest C$2 million in a non-guaranteed 15-year venture capital fund.
While the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Pilot Program may not be a viable option for many, there is another route to Canada for immigrant investors. Quebec’s Immigrant Investor Program remains open, as the province has had autonomy over its immigration policy since the Canada-Quebec Accord was agreed in 1991. Additionally, other provinces offer various residence by investment programs whereby the provinces issue nomination certificates and applications are then made to the federal government to issue Canadian residence visas.
The requirements of the Quebec scheme are the same as for the former federal program – C$1.6 million net worth and C$800,000 investment, but Quebec may also consider education, business background and language skills in deciding whether to approve applications. Since 2012, the program has opened for short windows with pre-determined quotas of applicants that will be accepted. While these were oversubscribed in 2012 and 2013, reports in 2014 indicated that the program had failed to meet its quota despite the deadline being extended three times. From August 2015 to 2016, applications will re-open for a further 1,750 main applications, of which no more than 1,200 will be allocated to citizens of Greater China.
Around 185,000 people have been granted residence under Canada’s Immigrant Investor Program, of which around 50,000 were principal applicants. Of the total number, around 30,000 were from Hong Kong, most of whom arrived in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, while 67,000 were from Chinese nationals, who have dominated the program since the turn of the century.