WINNIPEG — Manitoba is losing up to $100 million a year in investment because the business stream of its immigration nominee program is in shambles, says Randy Boldt, the former program director.Manitoba processed just 156 business applicants last year, well short of the 400 spaces it can fill under the program.
That means lost economic growth. Foreign business people, who use the provincial nominee program for business to obtain permanent residency, have invested an average of $406,000 apiece in Manitoba since the program began.
The problem isn’t a shortage of foreigners wanting to invest in Manitoba; there is a backlog of 2,300 applications on the books. Even at an optimum rate of 400 per year, that would take five years to clear.
"It’s been a disaster," said Boldt, who managed the program from 2000-06. He is now a privately licensed immigration consultant and president of Visamax Immigration Consultants Ltd.
The program has become so clogged, people such as Boldt have stopped handling business applications. At least one other immigration-consultant firm said it has also ceased assisting business people.
"Right now, it’s a seven-year processing period" for many applicants, Boldt said.
Provincial officials would not grant an interview but did send an email response. The low number of applicants processed, the province said, is due to "increased due diligence in evaluating application documents."
"While this may result in a longer application time in some cases, this leads to a better and more effective process," the email said.
Meanwhile, there has been an increase in applicants to the provincial nominee program for business due to the suspension of two federal investor programs, the province said. One of those is the federal entrepreneur program; the other is an investor program in Quebec.
Boldt said more applications should be an opportunity to draw more foreign investment to Manitoba, not see it drop.
He said staffing levels and funding are not the problem. The program is self-funded, with $5 million a year generated from interest on deposits and deposit defaults, and is in a surplus position. It has 17 full-time staff, the most of any such program in Canada except Quebec. But Quebec approves more than 2,000 business applicants a year versus the 156 approved in Manitoba in 2011, Boldt said.
The provincial nominee program for business is on pace to process even fewer business applicants in 2012. That compares to the 371 business nominees approved in 2010 and 388 approved in 2009.
Boldt said the main reason applications to Manitoba’s program swelled is because Ottawa increased the down payment for the federal immigrant investment program in 2010. The deposit for it was raised to $800,000 from $400,000.
That made programs such as Manitoba’s provincial nominee program for business more attractive to foreign business people.
Under Manitoba’s program, successful applicants must deposit just $75,000 and agree to a minimum investment of $150,000 in a business. Business people fulfil their agreements by purchasing everything from furniture stores to auto-parts distributors, but common investments are things such as hotels, restaurants and taxi licenses.
The provincial nominee program for business started in 2000 as a response to low levels of private-sector investment in Manitoba.
Business people from China make up the largest portion of program approvals, followed by South Korea. Increasing interest has been shown by business people from the Middle East, India and Vietnam.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 26, 2012