Growing number of migrants renouncing Canadian immigrant status
Thousands of permanent residents are renouncing their opportunity to immigrate to Canada — for reasons ranging from a dislike of the cold to a desire to avoid Canadian taxes.
More than 21,000 people with permanent resident cards who had the opportunity to become Canadian citizens have turned their back on the quest in the past two years. The highest number of “renunciations” are from citizens of China, India and South Korea.
People who renounce their permanent resident status no longer have to prove they’re spending significant time in Canada when they cross the borders or fly into an airport, say immigration lawyers in Vancouver.
Nor do Canadian immigration process dropouts have to give up the passport of their homelands, where many continue to work or run businesses. And they are not expected to declare their foreign assets to Canada Revenue Agency.
“Renunciations are growing in number and will likely remain high,” says an internal report from Canada’s immigration office in Shanghai, China, the largest source country for immigrants to B.C.
“Many people are renouncing five years after landing (in Canada), rather than renewing their permanent cards, as they are working in China and do not meet residency requirements,” says the internal report, published in the Vancouver newsletter Lexbase.
“Their children often remain in Canada to complete school and to begin their careers.”
According to three Vancouver immigration lawyers, many people who renounce their permanent resident cards continue to return to gateway cities such as Vancouver and Toronto to visit their families as temporary visitors, especially on the increasingly popular 10-year visas.
“They were getting picked off at Vancouver airport for failure to meet residency requirements. This way they can avoid that problem and still come here,” said B.C. immigration lawyer Sam Hyman, noting the strong majority of migrants to Metro Vancouver are from Asia.
People with permanent resident status in Canada are required to spend two years out of every five in the country.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Jeffrey Lowe said many people who renounce their permanent status are breadwinners who cannot meet Canada’s two-year-residency requirement because they hold down jobs elsewhere, typically earning more money in their homeland than they believe they could in Canada.
A large number of these are so-called astronaut parents, who work offshore while their spouses and school-attending children remain in Canada, usually in urban centres, and own residential property, say the immigration lawyers.
The rapid rise in renunciations began in 2015 after then-immigration minister Chris Alexander, of the Conservatives, changed the rules to make it easier to voluntarily withdraw from the immigration process.
In the two years up to September of 2016, Citizenship and Immigration Canada figures show there were 5,407 renunciations by citizens of China, 2,431 by citizens of India, 1,681 by South Koreans, 1,416 by Britons and 1,129 by Taiwanese.
“A lot of people with permanent resident status have wanted to get their family and wealth transferred into Canada,” said Hyman.
“Some have bought multiple properties. By renouncing their permanent resident status they can stay below the radar and avoid Canadian taxes,” he said.
“They can visit Canada whenever they want on a 10-year visa. Why would they want anything else?”
Another reason foreigners renounce the Canadian immigration process, according to Hyman, is so family breadwinners won’t have to give up their passport and citizenship privileges in economically vibrant homelands like China and South Korea.
China and India do not allow their citizens to hold two passports, and South Korea only in rare cases.
Lowe says he expects renunciations to jump even more since the federal government in November began requiring a new customs document for some travellers, called ETA, or electronic travel authorization.
Foreign nationals from certain countries can’t obtain an ETA if they are a permanent resident or if they are non-compliant with the terms of their residency card, Lowe said. As a result they’re not allowed to board a plane to come to Canada.
Given that problem, Lowe said many would-be immigrants choose to renounce their residency status and instead simply apply for temporary visas to Canada.
Richard Kurland, author of the Lexbase newsletter, said it’s become common for breadwinners to bring their entire family to B.C. as permanent residents and then to decide “either it’s too cold or there’s no way I’m going to file an income tax return and report my global interests and property and pay taxes in Canada on that. I’m returning to my country of origin.”
In many cases, Kurland said, just the spouse and children who physically stay in Canada for five years end up being the ones who become Canadian citizens.
“They get into the country. But not the person who brought them to Canada in the first place.”
In some cases, Kurland says, the family members who remain in places such as Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal while the breadwinner pays taxes elsewhere end up living, “technically,” below the poverty line.
Meanwhile, he said the family breadwinners “are happy to just come to Canada for two or three weeks several times a year. They just come to visit and for holidays.”
If the breadwinner should ever want to retire in Canada, Kurland said, their now-Canadian spouse or children could apply to sponsor them.