Following complaints and federal investigations, the P.E.I. government will no longer accept applications from immigrants looking to set up a business in the province in exchange for immediate permanent residency.
The government announced the closure of the entrepreneur stream of the Provincial Nominee Program Wednesday morning.
“The program wasn’t meeting the expectations of Islanders, and it wasn’t meeting the expectations of government,” said Economic Development Minister Chris Palmer.
Palmer said it is clear there are concerns about the entrepreneur program, so government decided to eliminate it entirely. There will be one final draw for the program on Sept. 20, with a maximum of 10 applicants selected. That last draw, said government, is to provide adequate notice.
Immigration fraud charges
Concerns about P.E.I.’s immigration programs have included a major investigation by the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Two people are charged with immigration fraud. CBSA alleges hundreds of immigrants used addresses of convenience, including the Sherwood Motel, to suggest they were living on P.E.I. as required when they were not.
The two have pleaded not guilty. Their trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 30.
A second CBSA probe, currently underway, alleges hundreds more immigrants gained permanent residency in a similar but separate scheme.
Entrepreneurs can still apply
While the entrepreneur stream is closed, there are still opportunities for entrepreneur immigrants to come to P.E.I.
The difference is the entrepreneurs will not be granted immediate permanent residency after providing a deposit. The business must be shown to be successful and continuously operating for at least a year. The government said this is in line with other jurisdictions across the country.
“We know that people making contributions to the economy that are working, that are creating businesses, are very valuable to the economy of the province, so we know that that is more valuable to us than a deposit,” Palmer said.
“I think this will help us with intentions of those folks that are coming to P.E.I.”
P.E.I. has aggressively pursued immigrants over the last decade. In 2017 immigration helped make P.E.I. the fastest growing province in the country.
Under the cancelled program, immigrants selected through the business stream provided a refundable escrow deposit of $200,000 to the province. Of that, $150,000 was considered the business portion. The remaining $50,000 was the residency portion.
With that deal signed, the province would nominate the investor as a permanent resident. The immigrant usually received their permanent residency in the mail before moving to the Island and setting up a business.
The province has previously recognized that large numbers of immigrant entrepreneurs were not opening businesses.
In November of last year, the government said it had not returned $18 million in deposits from 177 entrepreneur immigrants, saying most of them had never opened businesses.
Two international students from China have also alleged that businesses launched through the PNP demanded that they pay kickbacks on their wages.
PC Leader James Aylward said the cancellation of the entrepreneur program is a “positive step.”
“We were a bit of a laughingstock within the immigration community,” he said. “People weren’t taking us seriously, they were just seeing us as an easy way through. The people that really want to immigrate to P.E.I., want to be part of our fabric, part of our community, I think it’s going to benefit us that way because the focus now will move to them and away from the greed and default deposits.”
Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said it was “almost the last possible minute” to close the program, given the upcoming trial.
“What will be revealed in the course of a public trial may well be embarrassing to the provincial government and may well shed doubt on the integrity of the Prince Edward Island immigration program. Rather than face that criticism at that time, the minister responsible is in a much better position being allowed to say, ‘Yeah we closed that program so you don’t have to ask us those questions anymore.'”