The Quebec Immigrant Investor Retention Problem explained
“Less than 25% of the Immigrant Investors who arrived from 2003 to 2012 are still present in Quebec.” Since 2009, when the first study of the sort came out, there was uproar about the lack of effort made by the government to retain them in the province. No one knows what those numbers really mean, but everyone sees those numbers as cash and tries to explain the reasons why an immigrant investor would have to seek greener pastures outside the Belle Province.
To correctly understand those numbers, they first need to be put into perspective.
Quebec has run its own program since 1984 – the federal program, which is supposed to cater to the rest of the country, followed suit. They both offer applicants the same thing; namely, Canadian Permanent Residency (PR). With PR, you are allowed to live anywhere in the country, and even if you promised to resettle in a specific province, no legal means exists to keep you there. So, basically, you could apply to the Quebec program and say you intend to settle in that province, but when you actually land in Canada you can resettle anywhere you wish in the country.
Processing Time in months, from Hong Kong
*50% of cases solved before X months
Over the last 5 years, due to the Conservative vision of immigration and government expenses, the federal IIP lost its competitiveness compared to the Quebec program. First, it had 2 to 3 times the processing time (it could take up to 6 years to be processed in certain countries) and set a very low quota. Quebec used to process significantly more new applications than the federal government before the later was shut down.
In the past few years, only the Quebec IIP has been approving new application from investors (the new federal pilot program hasn’t of yet). What this means is that most immigrant investors settling in Canada originally applied to the Quebec program. You can say that the QIIP, during these years, has approved 68% more applicants than the FIIP.
Let’s make up some credible numbers and say that 90% of all immigrant investors settle in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. The number shows that prior to the FIIP shutting down, 2010 being considered the last year to take concrete data from, the data would approximatively read Vancouver (50%), Toronto (30%) and Montreal (20%).
We can only speculate what the real data would be in 2016, as our current data are corrupted, but in my personal opinion it would be: Toronto (45%), Vancouver (33%), Montreal (22%).
Now, if you’re a Chinese investor and you want to relocate to Canada, would you:
- Choose the Federal IIP, wait 3 years, or
- Choose the Quebec IIP, and wait 1 year?
The real question is, why would anyone choose the Federal program over the Quebec program? You just need to tell a white lie by pretending that you plan to settle in Quebec. In reality, of all QIIP applicants, a number closer to 25% were actually looking to settle in Montreal or Quebec as a whole rather than 100%. Now that the Federal program is pretty much nonexistent, do we really believe that everyone applying to the Quebec IIP honestly plans to resettle in Quebec?
The retention rate has dropped significantly since the FIIP shut down. Even prior to that, the QIIP was seen as a gateway not only to Quebec but the whole of Canada, investor chose it instead of the FIIP because of its shorter processing time.
In 2009, a similar study on retention came out with numbers as low as 10%. From 10% to 25% in a couple of years is quite a success. Or are the numbers just misleading?
It’s also unclear whether we should be talking about the actual investor or his family. If the applicant investor is not a resident any more, but his/her spouse and their 4 kids still are, does it mean that Quebec has failed to maintain them?
Do we have any data about retention rates in other provinces?
I haven’t seen any, because they can’t be tracked the same way as they can in Quebec. So how do we even know that those numbers are not normal? Did we compare them to the UK, Australia or the US? How do we know that it’s not normal behaviour for wealthy people to move every 4-5 years? If you are familiar with the Flag Theory, it actually doesn’t seem strange. And, of course, why would someone who makes more than 7 figures a year want to be taxed in a country in which he is not generating his income, especially when 50% of it will disappear? Only Australia, New Zealand and the UK produce any sort of serious report on the subject of business migration, and even then I’ve never heard of a retention rate. How many applicants from the EB-5 program are still present in the US? Does anyone know? Does anyone care to know? How many even get an unconditional Green Card?
The truth is that even with the number we have, we can’t compare with anyone else’s or find a pool large enough to make a reliable comparison.
What is an immigrant investor supposed to do?
Even if the numbers reflected the reality, there are other reasons why any number brought forward shouldn’t surprise anyone. The perpetual question in regard to the program is: What is an immigrant investor supposed to do in Canada after he makes his initial investment? Live, right? But in most cases he still works or generates his income from abroad; we kind of make sure of that by asking him to have recent or existent business ownership and experience. Invest? Well that makes sense – he must be a savvy investor. After all, he chose Canada because he had a great opportunity to invest 800K for 5 years at 0% return. The only reason they are labelled as “investor” is because of that last phrase, as if it takes some sort of expertise. The qualified worker comes to find a job and work; the entrepreneur comes to create and run his business; the immigrant investor has nothing concrete planned for himself after his entry investment. Is he supposed to look at his rate of return? Where his investment is placed? The worker and the entrepreneur are both asked to be active in the Canadian economy, but the investor is not. He’s usually active in his country of origin. So why do we expect him to be present in Canada in the long term? We believe that, simply by coming here, he will decide on his own to make active or passive investments and, by his own will, integrate into the Canadian economy. This is not false, but to yield good results the candidate has to be motivated, possibly sell most of his assets back home and be looking to fully relocate in Canada and generate a relevant source of income in the territory. The more adaptable he is to his new society and economy, the better the results will be in the short and medium term. An American is highly adaptable to Canadian society and economy. A Frenchman is, to a certain extent, highly adaptable to Quebec’s society and economy. But not everyone is as adaptable to the Canadian economy. Its irrational to believe that an Iranian businessman can adapt to the Canadian economy on his arrival, just as it’s irrational for me to believe I can go to Austria and be productive from the get-go. There is a gap to bridge; you need knowledge and understanding of your new environment. That bridge takes years to build, but a country like Canada offers no help for those individuals to build that bridge faster. The efforts are scarce and ineffective. There are no strong incentives for immigrant investors to actively invest in Canadian society. An individual who has no relevant source of income in the territory is a resident tourist. So why should we be surprised if the tourist decides to leave after few years of residence, put in his 3-4 years of residence, and leave passport in hands? This is not a criticism of the investor program, but a criticism of those who don’t seem to understand the actual program. There is nothing surprising in seeing a low retention rate in immigrant investor programs of a passive investment nature, especially after 10 years.
Are we being selective by targeting Montreal?
When we talk about immigrant investors, we talk about them settling in cities and not in a certain province, in order to be accurate. It would not be precise to say the province of Quebec when 95% of immigrants settle in the Montreal region. So when we talk about retention in Quebec, we’re really talking about Montreal. But we only ever speak about Montreal to compare it to Toronto, don’t we? Do you think the immigrant-investor retention problem is worse in Montreal or Saskatoon? If 100 immigrant investors were supposed to settle in Halifax, how many of them would still be there after 5 years and not in Toronto? When we talk about Quebec’s retention problem, we are really talking about Montreal versus Toronto and Vancouver. Calgary or Ottawa are hardly ever mentioned, but we don’t make a fuss about them not being attractive. In fact, Vancouver’s attractiveness has been reduced over the years due to surging real estate costs. Toronto in the last years has taken the mantle of favored destination for immigrant investors. Who can blame them? It makes sense that the economic capital and main city in Canada receives the most inflow of immigrant investors. Montreal’s attractiveness has actually increased in the last few years, mainly due to surging real estate prices in both Toronto and Vancouver. We actually rank Montreal second in our HNWI City Residence ranking of 75 world cities, and Montreal is the world’s best option if you have a $1M relocation fund. You can buy both a business and a property with $1M, where you could be limited to only 1 of the 2 in both Toronto or Vancouver.
Government studies show that in 5-6 years, retention has improved from 10% to 25% – but as I’ve just explained, those number are highly unreliable. What is certain is that Montreal has become more attractive during that period.
Now that this has been cleared up, does Montreal still have a retention problem?
Without being persuaded by the numbers, can we rationally establish causes for Montreal or Quebec to have a retention problem? Those who left will usually tell you: the cause is the requirement to learn French. We spoke about adaptability earlier on – one needs language or a facility in communication, and must understand and gather information to adapt to a new society. A French-speaking immigrant investor will adapt to Quebec society much faster than he would adapt in Ontario; therefore, we can assume that the retention rate of such a group of individuals would be higher in Quebec than in Ontario. But today, the bulk of the immigrant investors come from countries that don’t speak French as an official language (nor English, of that matter). But English is more widely spoken around the world, partly because the universal computer language is English. Since 85% of Quebec’s immigrant investors are Chinese, one could assume that a higher percentage speaks English rather than French. But contrary to popular belief, the actual problem is not the French requirement. I mean, one would want to know how to pronounce “Chateau d’Iquem” or “Givenchy” properly, but the real problem is the time and effort required at landing to adapt to your new surroundings. I’ll repeat it, because this is key: the problem is rooted in the time and effort required by new migrants to adapt to their new surroundings. You need to find a house, do your papers, understand the customs, the laws, deal with the government, all that … even before starting to think about investing in a source of income. I have met immigrant investors that needed a whole year before the first one of the family could get his driving licence. Chances are the immigrant already knows a bit of English, and learning it guarantees more security if he decides to relocate afterwards.
To put it plainly, it requires more time and effort for the average immigrant investor to properly settle in Montreal than it does in Vancouver or Toronto. It will require less financial resources to do so, but in the end it’s a trade-off: what is your time and effort worth in CAD?
What does it add up to?
It takes more time and effort for the average immigrant investor to properly settle and integrate into the economy in Montreal than in Toronto or Vancouver. The Quebec government needs to do more in order to be competitive on that front. The Quebec government needs to provide services that will reduce the time and effort the immigrant investor must spend in settling, adapting to the society and integrating into its economy. Economic integration is the key to a successful business-migration program, and that requires a post-landing support structure for the investor. The immigrant is our investment. You just don’t make one and hope it will pay off – you keep an eye on it, you nourish it and give it the tools it needs to blossom. An Immigrant Investor program shouldn’t comprise a pre-landing scheme only; it requires a post-landing support structure that will nurture the investor to their fullest potential.
In 2011, Quebec’s MICC Minister, Kathleen Weil, was one of the few to understand all that. Unfortunately the change of government at the provincial level and the irrational thinking process of the Conservatives has set back the Quebec Investor program by 5 years. Will 2016 be the year?
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