Last week a bipartisan group of US Senators known as the “Gang of Eight” unveiled their proposed US immigration reform bill. The 844 page document contains what amounts to an overhaul of almost all aspects of the current US immigration system. It is still to be seen how much of the original bill will make it through the US congressional process. As it stands right now, the bill contains numerous changes of particular interest to Canadians.

Encouraging Canadian Tourism to the US

The Gang of Eight took special care in their bill to recognize the contribution that Canadian retirees have been making to the US economy. They have proposed a change to the current 6 month visitor status in the US that Canadians are generally allowed in a rolling 12 month period. In its place they have proposed a change that will allow Canadians over 55 years old to be admitted as visitors to the US for up to 240 days in a rolling 12 month period. The requirements for such admission would be:

  • Canadian citizenship;
  • Over the age of 55;
  • Maintain a residence in Canada;
  • Own or rent a residence in the US;
  • Not otherwise inadmissible to the US;
  • No intent to work in the US; and
  • Will not seek public assistance.

Under the current language of the bill spouses must generally both meet the above requirements, except that the ownership or lease of the US residence may be in the name of only one spouse.

This would mean that Canadian retirees interested in spending more than 6 months a year in the US could do so legally without having to obtain a visa.

US Retiree Visa

Additionally, the Gang of Eight has proposed a Retiree visa that would allow retirees to reside full time in the US on a renewable 3 year visa. To qualify for this 3 year visa the applicant must generally meet the above listed requirements, as well as:

  • Be able to show that he or she has purchased one or more properties in the US worth a combined total of at least $500,000 USD;
  • Have US health insurance coverage; and
  • Reside in the US for at least 180 days per year.

This Retiree visa would not be the same as permanent residency though, and the recipient would have no right to work in the US. It appears that he or she would also not be eligible for US benefit programs such as US Medicare. It would, however, allow retirees to otherwise remain indefinitely in the US.

Family Based Immigration

In addition to the above mentioned changes, there will also be changes to family-based immigration. US citizens will no longer be able to sponsor their siblings for permanent residency. US citizens will no longer be able to sponsor their married children over the age of 31 for permanent residency. On a positive note, the spouses and children of US green card holders will now be considered immediate relatives, and subject to much shorter wait times for their own green card applications.

Employment Based Immigration – INVEST Visas

The bill itself contains many extensive changes to employment based visas. Some of the most exciting changes are in the new INVEST nonimmigrant and immigrant visa programs. These visas are available for certain entrepreneurs investing in new venture, entrepreneurial startups, and technologies.

Under the INVEST visa program, two new types of visas have been proposed for entrepreneurs. The Non-Immigrant INVEST visa is a renewable 3 year visa for investors who can show at least $100,000 in investment in his or her business from angel investors and/or other qualified investors over the past 3 years, and whose business has created no fewer than 3 jobs and generated at least $250,000 in annual revenue in the US for the two years prior to filing.

The new INVEST Immigrant visa would be an entrepreneurial green card. These new visas would be capped at 10,000 per year. The INVEST Immigrant visa requires that the applicant:

  • Have significant ownership in a US business (need not be majority interest);
  • Be employed as a senior executive in the US business;
  • Have had a significant role in the founding/initial stages of the business;
  • Have resided for at least 2 years in the US in lawful status;
  • Have in the 3 years prior to filing a significant ownership in US a business that has created at least 5 jobs and have received at least $500,000 in venture capital or other qualified investments; or
  • Have in the 3 years prior to filing a significant ownership in a US business that has created at least 5 jobs, and the business has generated at least $750,000 in annual revenue for the last 2 years prior to filing.

Merit-Based Green Cards

Though not often used by Canadians, the US Diversity Green Card lottery has been in existence for a number of years. As its name indicates, this was a lottery system for a green card. Under the new bill this lottery will be eliminated, and instead replaced with a merit-based system for individuals looking to obtain a green card that do not otherwise qualify for one of the existing immigrant visas.

What It All Means

This is one of the largest proposed overhauls to the US immigration system seen in years. Again, it is uncertain how much of the bill will be enacted in its current state, and how much will be eliminated or changed during the congressional process. The above highlights are only a glimpse of what the actual bill contains. Altro LLP, will keep you abreast of any important changes as they arrive.

At Altro LLP, we can help you craft both your short and long term immigration plans, and always in conjunction with your tax, estate and financial planning needs.

The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. It is not intended to be attorney advertising or solicitation. If you have a legal question, please consult with a licensed attorney.