Canada will start accepting applications from millionaire immigrant investors and their families on Wednesday under a revamped version of a program critics once denounced as "cash for citizenship."
The government announced in December it would give permanent residency to international investors who can invest $2 million in Canada, in an effort to attract experienced business people who could give the Canadian economy a boost.
The new Immigrant Investor Venture Capital program will open on Jan. 28 to Feb. 11 or until a maximum of 500 applications are received, the government quietly announced before MPs returned to Ottawa this week.
"This pilot program is designed to attract immigrant investors who will significantly benefit the Canadian economy and better integrate into our society, which will contribute to our long-term prosperity and economic growth," Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said in a written statement.
While the government will accept up to 500 applications, it will only give permanent resident visas to a maximum of 60 applicants — at least for now.
"The original 60 is to be able to evaluate if the new pilot program is achieving its goals and to ensure that it is also working in the best interest of Canada’s economy," a senior government source told CBC News on Tuesday.
"It could be expanded after the review of this first step."
Each investor will be required to have a minimum net worth of $10 million and make a non-guaranteed investment of $2 million over approximately 15 years into a fund managed principally by BDC Capital, the investment arm of the Business Development Bank of Canada.
Immigrant investors who can show they have a "legally obtained" net worth of at least $50 million can request to be exempted from one of the four requirements under the pilot program.
The details of the program, along with the selection criteria to apply, appear in the latest ministerial instructions published in a government publication over the weekend.
The government said proceeds from the fund will be distributed to the investors periodically while the fund "will invest in innovative Canadian startups with high growth potential."
The pilot will also create jobs, said Costas Menegakis, the parliamentary secretary to the immigration minister, on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.
"This will create employment ... it's a pilot program and we are testing it to see how it will go, " Menegakis said on Tuesday, appearing alongside two opposition MPs.
NDP critic for multiculturalism Andrew Cash told host Evan Solomon he's not against attracting foreign investors but giving permanent residency to rich immigrants is unfair to foreign caregivers and nannies who are already working in Canada and have been waiting for permanent residency, in some cases for up to three years.
"I can't help but think about the women who come into my office who went through the live-in caregiver program and they were promised to get landed status and bring their children over to Canada and they are still waiting … it just doesn't cut it."
Liberal immigration critic John McCallum said although the government provided few details about the pilot, he isn't opposed to the new program per se.
"I think what I really object to is the capricious, unpredictable way in which they change their immigration programs," adding that the government's approach to immigration policy has been "bad for Canada."
Previous investors contributed 'little'
The government is hoping to have better luck with this program than it did with the last one.
"Under the former Immigrant Investor Program (IIP), immigrant investors had to invest $800,000 in Canada’s economy in the form of a repayable loan, without meeting skills and abilities requirements of most of Canada’s economic immigration programs," the government acknowledged in a public statement before MPs returned to Ottawa this week.
"Research indicated that immigrant investors under the previous program were less likely than other immigrants to stay in Canada over the medium to long term. Also, they contributed relatively little to the Canadian economy, earning very little income and paying very little tax."
The pilot immigrant investor program comes after the government said it scrapped the old program — which critics had described as "cash for citizenship" — because it had been riddled with fraud.
The program had also been put on hold in 2012 because of a huge backlog of applications.
Thousands of millionaires who had been waiting for permanent residency under the program sued the federal government after it wiped out the backlog of applications.
A Federal Court judge ruled against the more than 1,000 would-be investor immigrants last June.