Close to one in five immigrants who committed to run a business “within” Prince Edward Island for a year spent 100 or more days abroad, according to government documents for the last fiscal year.
Despite the days away, they were not disqualified from the program and have been granted permanent residency with the freedom to move anywhere in Canada.
The figures provided to The Canadian Press through freedom-of-information laws show the self-reported travels of 88 immigrants in P.E.I’s Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) who signed deals saying they’d run a firm for 12 months.
The absence rates demonstrate the Island needs to move to match the higher standards of other provinces, a veteran observer of Canada’s immigration programs says.
“Prince Edward Island just has to up its game here,” said Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer and policy analyst, in a telephone interview.
The Island program requires immigrants to “provide active and ongoing management of the business from within Prince Edward Island,” but the contracts also say the newcomers are only required to show they spend half the year in Canada.
One person deemed to be a successful participant in the Island’s program was gone 182 days, a day short of the maximum allowed.
Another 15 were on the road over 100 days, while about 43 per cent — or 39 people — were out of Canada for 50 days or more as their business continued.
The province’s Office of Immigration says the standards are being looked at, but there’s no firm plan for changes at this point.
“Would we ever look at increasing the days requirements in our program? That is one thing we’re currently looking at, to ensure it’s properly aligned with the outcomes we’re looking for … as well as ensuring they’re properly aligned with our sister provinces,” Jamie Aiken, the director of the Office of Immigration, said in an interview.
Aiken said some people in the program are involved in tourism enterprises that may require them to travel internationally for lengthy periods to drum up business, while some businesses may be seasonal in nature.
However, Kurland says the time immigrants can spend abroad follows a pattern of P.E.I.’s standards being notably easier to meet than most other provinces, particularly those of British Columbia and Ontario.
“You have looser standards, there’s little enforcement and the person (immigrant) isn’t as legally obligated as in Ontario … to do more,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
Under the program, applicants provide the Island government with a $200,000 deposit, and commit to invest $150,000 and manage a firm that incurs at least $75,000 in operating costs.
After the deal is signed, the province nominates the investor to the federal Immigration Department as a permanent resident.
After a year, the immigrants can claim a refund of $150,000 if they met the business requirements, and $50,000 more if they could prove to the province they stayed in the province for the minimum time period.
The province has already acknowledged that two thirds of the PNP businesses in 2016-17, a total of 177 people, didn’t receive a refund for the business portion of their deposit, with the majority simply never opening a business. The province has said most nonetheless have remained in Canada, though there were no figures available for how many days this group is spending in the country.
Island Investment Development Inc., a Crown corporation which holds the deposits for the newcomers’ businesses, indicates $18 million in net revenues as a result of forfeited deposits in 2016-17 — equivalent to about half the province’s projected new spending on infrastructure projects.
In most other provinces, the business immigration systems don’t work that way.
In Ontario and British Columbia, for example, the entrepreneurs are granted temporary work permits and the province only sends in the immigrants’ applications for permanent residency to Ottawa after the immigrants are deemed to have successfully carried out their end of the deal.
In addition, in Ontario the immigrant entrepreneur must spend at least nine months of the year in the province while they’re in the program — or 274 days.
In Nova Scotia, a clause in the entrepreneur category specifically states that “the business must be actively managed by the applicant from the place of business in Nova Scotia. The business must not be managed from another location in Nova Scotia or from another Canadian province or territory or other country.”
A spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia department said work permits can be cancelled if random site checks showed participants aren’t in the province.
Kurland says Prince Edward Island has immigrant communities forming, and with some evidence newcomers are choosing to settle in the province there’s little justification for P.E.I.’s standards to fall below those of other jurisdictions.
“If P.E.I. brought its standards up to the levels of other provinces, there’d still be no shortage of takers for P.E.I. business immigration programs … I don’t understand why P.E.I. is unwilling to raise the bar,” he said.
The current system on the Island has also been criticized for allowing applications for permanent residency when a business immigrant arrives, rather than requiring terms and conditions of the program first be met.
Aiken said no changes are planned in that area.
“Coming over and starting a business is a significant undertaking. To have the comfort that your permanent residence status has been granted at the time of landing does present some attractiveness to an individual,” he said.
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