American lawmakers are considering further opening the border to Canadian snowbirds, by extending the amount of time vacationers can stay each year.
Two U.S. bills propose to allow certain Canadians to visit for up to eight months, rather than six. Thousands of Canadians head south during winter each year, with some carefully counting each allotted day to avoid trouble with U.S. immigration officials and Canadian health-care programs. If passed, the new laws could give some of them breathing room, though much work remains.
The federal government applauded the proposed changes, but said it had nothing to do with them. Instead, a non-profit group – the Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA) – says it met with more than 100 American senators, members of Congress and staff to press for the changes.
The campaign, though, is far from over. The bills haven't passed, and a previous version did not pass. Meanwhile, in Canada, many provinces still require six months of residency for health-care coverage. Advocates nonetheless call the proposals a first step.
"Our approach is that once the law passes, we'll be in a better position to further our efforts in Canada," said Evan Rachkovsky, a research officer at the CSA.
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said it does not, and has not, lobbied for the changes. The department nonetheless said "we support any efforts to increase trade and tourism between our two countries."
The two proposed American bills, introduced this year, overlap – a sign of the difficult path U.S. bills take to being enacted. If one does manage to pass, the other likely won't, according to a spokesman for Congressman Mike Quigley, who co-sponsored one of the two bills with Congressman Joe Heck. The other was tabled by prominent Democratic Senator Charles Schumer as part of immigration changes.
"The bill is about bringing more travellers and tourists to the U.S. by streamlining the visa processing system," Greg Lemon, a spokesman for Mr. Heck, said in an e-mail. Canadians spent $16.5-billion in the U.S. in 2011, according to the Canadian government.
The CSA also hopes for changes to tax regulations, Mr. Rachkovsky said. Currently, Canadians who spend more than six months in the U.S. are not eligible to claim an exemption from being taxed in the U.S. Mr. Rachkovsky's group is lobbying to extend that to eight months as well.
"They recognize these obstacles," Mr. Rachkovsky said of the U.S. lawmakers working with his group. "And they have assured us that they will change the formula if the act were to pass."
The two proposed laws are different. For instance, Mr. Schumer's bill applies to Canadians 55 and older, while the other bill applies to those age 50 and older. The age is "not set in stone at this point," Mr. Lemon said. Both allow for a spouse to stay under the same rules.
Both bills would require vacationers to maintain a residence in Canada, and either own a home in the U.S. or sign a rental agreement for the duration of their stay. The visitors would be forbidden from working in the U.S. or claiming welfare. The CSA also hopes to see the changes included in a third U.S. bill, which hasn't yet been tabled.
Federally, Canadian citizens have no rules governing how often they are in the country, though permanent residents must spend at least two years in the country within a five-year period.
Health-care rules would need to be changed to allow travellers eight months' leave. In Ontario, B.C. and Manitoba, for example, Canadians can spend a maximum of seven months outside the country each year if they wish to maintain their health coverage. Other provinces set the limit at six months. Some provinces grant exemptions, including New Brunswick, where residents can apply to leave for of up to 18 months every three years. The snowbirds' group is pushing for all provinces to extend health coverage for eight-month absences.