Wealthy Chinese looking for an escape route from their native land — and there are hundreds of thousands in this class — received bad news last week: the Canadian government decided to terminate a deal that essentially allowed foreign millionaires to loan 800,000 Canadian dollars (or a little less than $730,000) to the Canadian state for five years in exchange for permanent residency. Ottawa’s cancellation of the immigrant-investor program means that 65,000 pending applications will be left unprocessed. The majority of these unprocessed visa appeals are from mainland Chinese.
So what’s a poor rich Chinese to do now? The China Daily, the government’s English-language mouthpiece, described Canada’s cancelation as “unfair” in a Feb. 17 headline. But immigration agencies in Beijing, with their plush offices in the central business district, are hawking plenty of alternatives.
One option lies just south of the Canadian border. Chinese who invest as little as $500,000 and employ 10 people in a rural or struggling part of the U.S. can secure EB-5 investor visa, which can lead to green cards. Two major emigration consultancies in Beijing, Globe Visa and Cansine Immigration, are recommending the U.S. now that Canada’s immigrant-investor option has shuttered.
Then there are the financial laggards of the E.U. that are so desperate for a bailout that they are basically selling residency to cash-endowed Chinese for as little as $100,000. Count nations like Latvia, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus in this distressed category. With less cash than it takes to buy a tiny apartment in the outskirts of Beijing, Chinese investors can acquire residency in one European locale, as well as eventual freedom to roam most of the E.U. without a visa.
Even pricier destinations hold allure. A Cansine representative noted that Britain is proving fashionable this year, especially as nations like Australia tighten immigration restrictions. Applicants for British permanent residency must invest £1 million ($1.7 million), 80% of which in treasury bonds and the remainder in either real estate or in a local savings account, according to Cansine. The catch? Program participants must spend at least half the year in Britain; Latvia, by contrast, requires just one day a year in the country to maintain residency. “Britain is very popular among our clients,” says Cansine’s Liu Jianping, “because the process is easy and it takes only a short time to get approval from the British government.”
There are also the teeny countries that may be hoping to profit from their very nationhood: St. Kitts and Nevis, Vanuatu, Antigua and Barbuda — all are targeting Chinese investors. Finally, don’t forget Canada either. In its latest budget report, Canada’s Ministry of Finance noted: “There is also little evidence that immigrant investors as a class are maintaining ties to Canada or making a positive economic contribution to the country.” Instead, a new scheme may well require would-be immigrants to fully invest in Canada, as opposed to simply providing a zero-interest loan for five years, as the previous program mandated. “We can still help Chinese get to Canada,” says Qu Bo, from the aptly named Go-to-Canada immigration agency in Beijing, which is offering lectures on the new Canadian policy this weekend.
Still, any emigration involves risks. Among them are shady brokers who operate with little legal oversight. Last year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission busted an EB-5 scheme for investment in a Chicago convention center that the government agency says tried to defraud more than $156 million in investments and fees from 250 people, many of whom were Chinese. Luckily, the investment money had been preserved in escrow. But $11 million in fees vanished — along with scores of Chinese hopes for resettling in America.
— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing