Todd: Harry and Meghan's move mimics larger migration trends

Credit to Author: Douglas Todd| Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2020 17:59:20 +0000

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are a trendy transnational couple — and no more so than with their potential choice of B.C. as the chosen land in which to set up a provisional home.

The British Duke of Sussex and his American bride are by no means the first foreign-born rich people to come to B.C. as non-permanent residents, determined to enjoy the temperate region’s live-and-let-live ethos and its ethnically diverse people with a penchant for the outdoors.

The province last fall become the fastest-growing region in all of Canada, a country which Statistics Canada says is itself numerically expanding at levels “the highest ever observed.”

Like Meghan and Harry, more than four out of five new people in Canada and B.C. are not born in the country. They’re from offshore. B.C., with its high real-estate prices, is receiving an increasingly smaller fraction of migrants from other Canadian provinces.

Another thing that makes Prince Harry and Meghan like the largest cohort of new arrivals is the couple appear to be preparing to become temporary residents. They’re planning on settling in Canada to a certain degree, but they’re giving no indications they’re here to obtain citizenship.

Even though the world has been watching as Meghan and son Archie have spent much of the past two months on Vancouver Island and in Metro Vancouver — and Queen Elizabeth has acknowledged the family is going “through a period of transition in which the Duke and Duchess will spend time in Canada and the United Kingdom” — several things are unknown.

The exact migration status of Meghan and Harry is up in the air, for instance. Still, the couple fit loosely into the category of “millionaire migrants.”

That’s the title of the seminal book University of B.C. geographer David Ley wrote to describe the escalating movement of transnational wealthy people flocking to the world’s “gateway” cities, such as Vancouver, in search of some sort of haven.

And should the moneyed royal couple buy a home in this country, they would be signing in on the current global fashion in real estate.

Canada and B.C. — especially high-priced Metro Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto (where Markle has worked as an actress) — are prime destinations for the world’s wealthy to purchase properties.

If Harry and Meghan put down money on a dwelling in Metro Vancouver, Victoria or in certain other urban centres on the West Coast, however, Vancouver immigration lawyer Sam Hyman says they would be subject to the B.C. government’s foreign-buyers tax — and perhaps to its speculation and vacancy tax.

In that way, the famous couple would end up in the same boat as tens of thousands of other foreign national property owners in B.C. who do not spend more than six months a year in the country (which normally means Ottawa does not tax their income).

The NDP government is already beginning to take in hundreds of millions of dollars a year from targeting lightly- used, non-resident-owned B.C. properties with such taxes, which are similar to those in many sought-after global cities, including London, home to Buckingham Palace.

Since they are British and American citizens, Harry and Meghan are distinct in one way. They do not hail from the continent that is by far the largest source of new arrivals in Canada, Asia.

As such they do not have to apply for a visitor’s visa to make a home in Canada for up to six months a year. That distinguishes them from the more than three million people from countries such as China and India who have in recent years been snapping up Canada’s 10-year-multiple-entry visas.

Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex at Buckingham Palace for an event to mark the centenary of the RAF, July 10, 2018. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Yet long-term visitors such as Harry, Meghan and Archie add in a way to the country’s exploding stock of non-permanent residents, a cohort made up mostly of international students and various types of guest workers. This group makes up two of three of the roughly one million new migrants to Canada each year, as well as of the more than 110,000 moving annually into B.C.

Regardless of the category of non-permanent resident to which the royal family end up belonging, the consequences end up being similar in regards to lifestyle options — especially when it comes to Canada’s housing market.

Even though it’s anybody’s guess whether Prince Harry and Meghan will buy property in B.C., it is common for non-permanent residents to do so. Such foreign nationals are free to come and go almost as they wish, whether to visit family or enjoy part-time living near evergreen forests.

Without commenting directly on the royal couple, veteran B.C. real-estate analyst Steve Saretsky says the overall migration-fuelled growth in Canada’s population that the arrival of the royal couple epitomizes has been “nothing short of incredible.”

And the fact almost all of Canada’s GDP expansion depends on such population growth “should be of particular interest to Canadian home builders who are aggressively building homes to try and keep pace with the record number of people moving here.”

It’s of specific concern, Saretsky says in his December report, when many new arrivals are non-permanent residents. “We have become increasingly dependent on the growth of a cohort of people who could quickly vanish in the event of a weakened economy.”

Although the details of the royal couple’s future in Canada are understandably murky — including how they might engage in work or what they will do for housing — there is no doubt their expressed interest in setting up a part-time home in this country, particularly in B.C., fits into several new and widespread migration narratives.

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