By Likam Kyanzaire
Canada is best known as a welcoming place for people around the world. Since the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States, Canada has become even more of a destination for migrants around the globe as anti-immigrant sentiment sweeps over the United States. Many potential migrants are reconsidering their future in North America and are choosing to make Canada their home.
When Nazanna Khadra, an Iranian PhD graduate at the University of Illinois, was looking for a professorship, she chose the University of Toronto over more accomplished schools in the US. Her reason? With the historically tense relations between Iran and the US, she feared never being able to visit her family in Tehran and still being allowed back into the US. So, she fled for Canada. She says, “it was a choice between family and the PhD. I worked for, for 10 to 15 years.”
Khadra is part of a growing movement of people choosing Canada over the US. In conversations with friends from India to Uganda, it is clear that many are not risking their future for the American dream. They are now choosing Canada for what they see as a more hospitable government. Although the Canadian government has wooed countless people with the smiling face of Justin Trudeau, its policies are less welcoming and more confusing.
On January 1, 2023, the federal government of Canada’s foreign buyers’ ban came into effect. The Trudeau administration’s two-year ban on purchasing properties by foreign individuals is a step to temper down record-breaking housing prices in cities like Vancouver and Toronto. Ahmed Hussein, Federal Minister of Housing, said, “through this legislation, we’re taking action to ensure that housing is owned by Canadians for the benefit of everyone who lives in this country.”
The former Minister of Immigration highlighted the aims of the policy but failed to explain the effects of this ban on immigrants to Canada. The confusing nature of this policy demands the federal government work hard to explain the policy’s impact on everyday people, especially on immigrants. Since the diversity policies set by Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Canada has welcomed the world to its doors. Yet, many feel the ban unnecessarily calls out foreigners. Officially titled The Prohibition on the Purchase of Residential Property by Non-Canadians Act, the policy passed in the summer of 2022. That same year, the federal government committed to bringing in around 500,000 immigrants to Canada each year. So, which is it? Does the federal government want to have foreigners in Canada, or do they wish to lock them out of society by banning them from housing? It appears to be a bit of both.
The law bans noncitizens, non-permanent residents and foreign commercial enterprises from buying residential property in major cities across the nation. But the devil is in the details. The ban holds exemption rules that make it all the more confusing. According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the ban exempts several groups:
Temporary residents studying in Canada who:
- are studying in an authorized learning institute;
- have five years of income tax;
- been in Canada 244/365 days each year; and,
- not purchasing property over 500,000.
Temporary residents working in Canada who:
- hold a valid work permit;
- worked full-time for at least three years;
- filed income taxes; and,
- have yet to purchase a rental property.
The ban also does not include refugees, foreign diplomats and non-Canadian spouses. But what if you want to rent out a property? The law only applies to properties intended for living. It does not affect those foreigners who wish to rent out dwelling units to tenants and use them as cottage homes or areas with less than 100,000 people. These exemptions favour immigrants who want to make money off renting or those in small cities like Medicine Hat, Alberta or Timmins, Ontario.
The ban is still estimated to impact around three million recent and upcoming immigrants over the next two years. Before attempting any property purchase, talk to a lawyer or government official because if caught in violation of the law, you could pay $10,000.
Experts have said the ban will have little effect. Foreigners make up less than 10 per cent of the buyers in provinces like British Columbia and Ontario, so whatever drop in demand will come from the ban is minimal. Similar policies on foreigners in these provinces have only done little. The media paint immigrants as prosperous groups, but this image is often a caricature. Many immigrants struggle harder than Canadians to afford property in its biggest cities.
The foreign buyers’ ban has no hope of effectively solving the housing affordability crisis in this country. There are fears it will create resentment among Canadians by scapegoating immigrants for the housing crisis. This ineffective policy is playing with fire by fanning xenophobic flames. The masses are afraid they cannot afford the basics of life, and it would not be the first time that fear feeds into hate.
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