A chilly welcome: Congress protects America from Canadian pensioners

A chilly welcome: Congress protects America from Canadian pensioners

Mar 8th 2014 | GULFPORT, FLORIDA | From the print edition


A CHORE combining carpentry with diplomacy awaits Gordon Bennett, a retired Canadian soldier, after his move to a larger mobile home near Florida’s Gulf coast. As commander of an overseas post of the Royal Canadian Legion, he likes to fly his national flag from a handy palm tree. But as a respectful guest—one of about half a million Canadian “snowbirds” who own winter homes in Florida, using special visas good for a total of 180 days in any 12-month period—he knows to follow strict protocol when mounting his flags, or face complaints from American neighbours. His Canadian flag cannot be flown on its own but must be paired with the Stars and Stripes (though never on the same pole). The American flag may not be smaller or fly lower, and must be flown in the position of honour (the right, as you emerge from a doorway).

Mr Bennett, a genial octogenarian, does not resent the fussing. In his winter home of Pinellas County—an unflashy region of mobile home parks, “senior living” complexes, golf courses and strip malls—the welcome is mostly warm for Canadian snowbirds, who pump billions of dollars into Florida’s economy each year. His post shares premises with the American Legion, and has introduced local veterans to Moose Milk, a lethal Canuck eggnog-variant involving maple syrup. He routinely brings 50 or 60 Canadians to ex-servicemen’s parades, picnics or dinner-dances.

But once issues of sovereignty are raised, America’s welcome can chill. Visa rules force Canadian pensioners to count each day after they cross the border, typically in late October. They are enforced ferociously: overstayers may be barred from re-entry for five years. Some members of Congress have been trying to ease the rules for Canadian pensioners since the late 1990s. A law allowing Canadians over 55 to spend up to eight months in America each year, as long as they can show leases for property down south and do not work, passed the Senate in 2013 as part of a comprehensive immigration bill, but like the bigger bill, it has now stalled. In the House of Representatives an extension for Canadian snowbirds has been tucked into the JOLT Act, a tourism-promotion law introduced by Joe Heck, a Nevada Republican.

Canadian pensioners are not an obviously threatening group—few Americans report being mugged by elderly Ottawans armed with ice-hockey sticks. They pay property and sales taxes in America. They must cover their own health-care costs while down south, through the Canadian public health-care system and private top-up policies. If allowed to stay for eight months, most would stay only seven, predicts Dann Oliver, president of the Canadian Club of the Gulf Coast (staying longer would complicate their health cover and their tax status). They just want a few more weeks in the sun.

Yet even something this easy is proving hard. Mr Heck is willing to tweak his bill to focus on two reforms: the Canadian extension and visa interviews by video-conference for Chinese, Brazilian and Indian would-be visitors, who currently face long journeys to American consulates. But many members of the House “are reluctant to do anything with the word immigration in it,” says Mr Heck. Optimists hope the bill might come up for a vote this year. For Mr Bennett and his wife, Evelyn, Canadians whose “bones ache” in their homeland’s cold, it can’t come too soon.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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