Two years after discontinuing a controversial provincial nominee program, the province has continued to collect millions in defaulted deposits from applicants.
As of March 31, 2020, the province’s Island Investment Development Inc. (IIDI) collected $16.6 million in defaulted deposits for the 2019/20 fiscal year. The entrepreneurship stream of the PNP was discontinued in September of 2018, to be replaced with a work permit stream.
Between 2011 and 2018, immigrant investors were able to gain permanent residency in P.E.I. under the entrepreneurship stream after paying a deposit of between $100,000 and $200,000. Applicants to the program could regain their deposit after remaining on the P.E.I. for one year and successfully running a business.
The province has collected millions each year in defaulted deposits from the program. However, in the last year, the province has reduced the proportion of immigrants who are defaulting on their deposits.
During a presentation before the legislative standing committee on public accounts, Jamie Aiken, executive director of IIDI, which is responsible for P.E.I.’s Office of Immigration, said the province has refunded the deposits of 222 PNP immigrants. Ninety-four, or 29 per cent, of the PNP immigrants under this stream had their deposits defaulted to the province.
"Although the program has ceased operations, we are seeing continued improvement in people continuing to fulfill their obligations," Aiken told public accounts on Tuesday.
In all, the province holds $120 million in restricted funds related to 676 PNP applicants under the cancelled entrepreneurship stream. These funds are held in guaranteed investment certificates.
"These individuals are either with the federal government of Canada for processing or they're now in process of establishing their business here on P.E.I.," Aiken said of the 676 applicants.
The entrepreneurship stream had accounted for the majority of PNP applicants on P.E.I. prior to 2018. Since that time, most PNP applicants have been nominated through the labour stream. This stream has not seen the same level of controversy the entrepreneurship stream did.
The entrepreneurship stream was replaced in 2018 with a work permit stream, which granted permanent residency to immigrant entrepreneurs after they demonstrate they have remained on P.E.I. for over one year.
Aiken said 238 applications have been received for this stream since September 2018, but only 28 have arrived in P.E.I. and have started a business.
Another immigration stream, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, saw 648 immigrants successfully arrive in the province. This program matches prospective immigrants and graduated international students with employers who are unable to find trained workers locally.
Aiken said an evaluation of this program found that 94 per cent of AIPP applicants have remained on P.E.I. after one year.
However, the province has no means of tracking overall immigrant retention.
Currently, the AIPP is slated to continue into 2021. Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly asked about the requirements of the program for applicants to remain with one employer for 12 months.
"I love the program, but it doesn't seem to fit for Prince Edward Island, being a seasonal economy," McNeilly said.
"Our EI system is based on hours. And this program is based on a relationship with a specific employer."
Jeff Young, a business integration manager with IIDI, said the Atlantic provinces have been advocating for the requirements to be more flexible for applicants.
"Unfortunately, right now the federal position has been they want 12 months year-round employment with one employer," Young said.
Green MLA Hannah Bell said she has observed a “significant churn” in terms of increased commercial rental rates in Charlottetown, which some have attributed to applicants from the discontinued PNP entrepreneurship stream.
"It makes it a hell of a lot harder when your commercial business rates are going up to $4,000 a month, which is where they're sitting right now in most commercial spaces in and around Queen Street,” Bell said
"I really am concerned about how you can change that trajectory."
Aiken said the introduction of the work permit stream would place more requirements on immigrant applicants to remain in P.E.I. and invest in the community. He said he hoped to see other business leaders reach out to immigrant entrepreneurs.
"We, as an office, but as well as the business community of P.E.I., we need to put our best foot forward in terms of welcoming them into the community," Aiken said.