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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada has received just six applications for its pilot immigration program for millionaires, far fewer than for its investor class visa that was scrapped last year amid criticism it was allowing rich Chinese to buy their way into Canada.
"I knew it wasn't going to work. It was poorly designed," said Richard Kurland, a Vancouver immigration lawyer who filed an Access to Information request for the data.
Canada said in December it was looking for 50 wealthy foreigners to join the pilot run of the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital (IIVC) plan, under which applicants must be far richer than those who entered under the previous program.
Kurland said the revamped program will likely "wither on the vine and quietly go away" given the clear lack of demand from would-be immigrants who balked at the high price tag and uncertainty about their investment.
Despite the low number, an official at the Citizenship and Immigration department said the government would not consider going back to a program similar to the previous investor class visa.
"We believe it is important to continue testing demand, because we know that the IIVC pilot program can deliver significant benefit (to) Canada," a spokesperson said in an email.
Under the new program, would-be immigrants must invest a minimum of C$2 million ($1.5 million) in Canada for a 15-year period and must have a net worth of at least C$10 million. Among other criteria, they must also meet a new requirement that they speak English or French.
"Few were prepared to throw good money away, and C$2 million dollars is a lot of money to get a visa," said Kurland. "There was no monitoring oversight and control after the investment is made ... (and so) this is not a wise financial decision to take. I'm not surprised to see just six takers."
The federal government started accepting applicants in January, and had received the six applications as of June 8, the documents show.
Launched in the mid-1980s, the previous immigrant investor program promised a fast-track visas for foreigners with a net worth of C$800,000 and C$400,000 to invest. The minimums were later upped to a net worth of C$1.6 million and C$800,000 to invest. There was no language requirement.
The program was wildly popular, particularly with Chinese investors, first from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and later from mainland China. The Pacific Coast city of Vancouver, with its proximity to the Asia-Pacific region, was the preferred destination.
Applications surged over the past decade, and the program was frozen in 2012 as officials scrambled to clear the backlog.
Reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver and Andrea Hopkins in Toronto; Editing by Peter Galloway and Alan Crosby