Immigration bill would allow Canadians to stay longer in the U.S.

Florida sign
Posted at 5:00 PM, Jun 19, 2013
and last updated 2014-07-14 12:14:46-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) -- Florida could soon be getting a boost in the number of Canadian visitors.

As lawmakers debate the Immigration Reform bill on the floor of the U.S. Senate, they'll also be weighing in on a section proposed by New York Senator Charles Chuck Schumer. The provision would allow retired Canadians, 55 or older, to get a Canadian Retiree Visa allowing them to stay in the United States for up to eight months; two months longer than currently allowed.

Canadian visitors, however, would have to own a second home in the U.S. Or have a rental agreement or hotel reservation, according to a report by USA Today.

"A lot of people want to stay longer,'' said Bob Slack, president of the Canadian Snowbird Association. "They'd like seven months if they can.''

USA Today reports Canadian citizens do not need visas to visit the U.S., but their stay is limited to six months minus one day - generally 182 days - within any 12-month period. That means Canadians who head to popular destinations in Arizona, California, Florida or Texas at the beginning of November need to get back home by late April.

Florida is one of the top destinations for Canadian visitors. According to the state's official tourism marketing agency, VISITFLORIDA, more than 3.6 million Canadians visited Florida in 2012. (Stats)

"That's a 30 percent increase in the potential amount that Canadians could spend on everything from accommodations to dining and grocery stores," said Will Seccombe, president and CEO for VISIT FLORIDA. "When you get a long length of stay, it has exponential impacts in spending throughout the entire community."

Senator Schumer has described his bill as being an "economic shot in the arm" because visitors would spend money throughout the U.S.

The Canadian Embassy in Washington reports Canadians contributed more than $4 billion to the Florida economy last year.

Embassy spokesman Chris Plunkett told USA Today that the Canadian government didn't ask for the measure.

"But we certainly support anything that can improve trade and tourism between Canada and the U.S.,'' he said.

If approved by lawmakers, and signed by President Obama, the newspaper reports Canadian visitors could have some trouble back at home, saying that that Canadians are required to spend at least six months of every year at home in order to qualify for national health insurance. Canadian Snowbird Association is working to change that and to convince government leaders there to relax some of those rules.

According to USA Today, more than half a million Canadians own homes in Florida, according to an April report by BMO Financial Group of Toronto. It said top locations for Canadian homeowners are the Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice area, 17%; Orlando-Kissimmee, 13 percent; and Miami-Fort. Lauderdale-Palm Beach, 13%. The Cape Coral-Fort Myers area, Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area and Naples-Marco Island region each had 9%.

Other popular winter residences for Canadians include Arizona, especially Yuma, Lake Havasu, Tucson and Mesa, and the Palm Springs area of California, Slack said. In Texas, popular Canadian wintering grounds are the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen, Brownsville and South Padre Island.