Posted on August 31, 2004

Buying Your Way Into Canada

Mike Weisbart, Korea Times, Aug. 29

VANCOUVER, Canada — With just 425,000,000 won you can buy a Canadian citizenship in as few as six months. Of course, you’ll need more than that if you actually want to live here but, under a relatively new program run by the country’s westernmost province, British Columbia, that’s the minimum amount you’d be required to invest.

And, according to Ahn Sookyung, a Business Advisor at the province’s Business Immigration Office, Koreans have been availing themselves of the program. Just two years in, a full quarter of the 200 applicants so far have been Korean, more than any other ethnic group with the exception of Chinese.

That doesn’t sound like much but the program is only in its infancy. And, when you consider that most immigrants are bringing more than a million dollars (Canadian) into the province to invest and live, it’s easy to understand why BC is making the effort to entice them.

Ms. Ahn is only one of several advisors in her office but she was specifically brought in to help with Korean clientele. Her job entails corresponding with potential Korean investors, advising them on procedures, and generally smoothing their way into the country.

She told me that the province wanted to maximize the benefits of the immigration. “We want them to come,” she said.

But they also don’t want them to go anywhere else. What Ms. Ahn wouldn’t admit is that BC is competing with other Canadian provinces (not to mention the U.S.) to attract these people and their money. BC was first off the block with their nominee program but others are studying the approach.

Immigration is a federal responsibility in Canada, meaning that the central government in Ottawa runs the show and makes final decisions on who gets accepted. But Canada’s immigration system has been under considerable strain for the past few years. Wait times have increased and it’s become much harder to get in the door for just about everyone.

BC is trying to get around that for wealthy immigrants and thereby create and advantage for the province.

It really shouldn’t take much. Canadian Immigration patterns have consistently shown Vancouver and the surrounding areas to be one of Canada’s most popular destinations for immigrants (along with Toronto and Montreal). Provincial statistics show that Koreans already comprise one of the province’s fastest growing ethnic communities.

Still, the stakes for the province in terms of dollars and population growth needs are high so it opened the business immigration office.

The process works fairly simply. The prospective investor contacts the BC Business Immigration Office and submits a business proposal. The investor must be creating jobs in the province for 5 people and/or adding value to an existing business that is already providing employment for the area.

For those desiring to live in the greater Vancouver region, the minimum investment is CDN $1 million. But to encourage development in the outlying jurisdictions the province has lowered that requirement to $500,000.

Once approved, the investor will be given a temporary work permit and he can then immediately bring over his family and get settled. After the business is up and running the province will conduct a site visit to determine if the investor has fulfilled his commitment. If so, the province then nominates the investor’s family for permanent residence status.

Under the agreement with the province, the Government of Canada will only perform medical and security background checks. The end result is a fasttrack approach for wealthy people.

Immigration is an important issue in Canada. The truth is that the country was built by immigrants and, with its massive expanse of land and low birthrate, it clearly requires more of them. But public opinion is divided over the matter. At the very least, Canadians expect the system to be fair for everyone so the BC approach is bound to create some waves.

Generally speaking, there have traditionally only been three ways to immigrate to Canada. If you’re a refugee you can get in with no money and no skills. If you have family in Canada, they can sponsor your application. And if you have certain skills targeted by the government or have money to invest, you can apply.

All three of these paths require an individual first to become a “landed immigrant” with permanent residence status and, second, to live in the country for two to three years before applying for citizenship. Final determination depends on a point system. You get points for a college degree, for example, or for having learned English after arrival.

But now, with the tidy sum mentioned above, you can get yourself and your family in — and into one of the most desirable locales in the country — much faster and without the conditions. The BC immigration office can even help those people who’ve already begun to go through the system under the old approach to get out of their conditions and start again.

And where are those Koreans going? Perhaps not surprisingly, many of them are opting for investment in real estate. Apparently they’re snapping up restaurants, hotels and gas stations around the province.