Despite Capitol Hill being divided into bitter factions, perhaps more than ever before, one group has managed to find a way to ally themselves politically with both sides of the U.S. Congress. It’s not any particular political group of people, nor is it a country of strategic importance. Indeed, it’s a group of tourists — Canadians who have left snowy slopes for the beaches of Florida.
What brought the two unlikely parties together was the fact that there’s a possibility they will stay longer in the United States, particularly Florida. This would be a win-win situation, as Florida’s economy, heavily reliant on tourism, can receive money from the Canadians. As for the northern tourists, well, they could stay longer! With tourists staying for an extended period of time, retail stores, restaurants, and other Floridian attractions will have more business on their hands.
In the last two years, both American parties mutually pushed for older Canadians to be able to extend the time of their visit to the United States. If passed, Canadians will be able to stay for eight months (as compared to six, which has been the case so far) without having to face extortionate taxes. It’s a rare occasion that there’s bipartisan advocacy about legislation, with the two parties opposing each other fiercely on border security. They’ve named the legislation the Canadian Snowbirds Act.
Despite the legislation receiving support from both Democrats and Republicans, there’s still a likelihood the Act won’t succeed. All immigration-related bills have not gained any traction, not even ones like this which have had broad support.
Reasons for the Act
A Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, as well as Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, Republican senators, are sponsoring the legislation. The reason why they’ve pushed specifically for Canadians is the fact that they are the most numerous Florida visitors that come from other countries. In 2018, more than 3.5 million Canadians came to the Sunshine State, and estimates say that they left behind about $6.5 million. The people of Broward County feel the Canadian presence the most as a survey has shown that most of the Canadian travelers over the age of 55 visit Fort Lauderdale.
The Canadian Snowbird Association, their national organization for Canadian tourists, assesses that about 350,000 Canadians go to Florida and spend at least three to six months there. Additionally, another 100,000 go to the state for a period of up to three months. Estimates show that around 80% of those Canadians own property.
If passed, the legislation will make it possible for Canadians, 50-year-olds and over, to extend their stay for two more months. As things stand now, Canadians who wish to stay longer than six months have to pay federal income tax, regardless of which country they earn their income in. This concerns Canadians who own property as well as rent a residence.
This legislation, in spite of the bipartisan support, hasn’t had an easy run in Washington. The Act would entail amending federal immigration law, and so far, it hasn’t had a hearing. Jessica Bolter, a Migration Policy Institute analyst, said that nothing immigration-related had seen any movement. According to her, no immigration bill will gain traction, regardless of what it’s really about. She stated that politicians were averse to passing anything that someone could perceive as diminishing immigration laws.
The CSA’s Director of Communications and Research Evan Rachkovsky, while lobbying for the Act, says that the economic argument for the Act should be acknowledged. Rachkovsky said that it was more of a “jobs issue” than an immigration one. He said that the Act didn’t concern people who were actually immigrating to Florida, nor were they taking any jobs from Americans. Instead, as Rachkovsky said, it was about the people who were willing to spend their income in the United States. The bill would make sure that Canadians who’re there for eight months are unable to look for employment or public assistance.
However, Canadian snowbirds have to deal with additional challenges than just Washington’s unwillingness to change immigration laws. Namely, if they leave Canada for more than six months, they will be at risk of having to surrender their health insurance issued by their government. Rachkovsky said that the majority of provinces had changed the cutoff point to seven months and that the CSA worked on getting it to eight.
The Canadian dollar has weakened tourism, which has been affected even more by the Boycott USA movement that popped up as the result of President Trump’s stance on trading. There are signs that the tourism season for Canadians has gotten shorter over the last couple of years. One of the people who have felt it on their own skin is Hughes Longelin, owner of a villa & spa resort in Hollywood. Longelin said that a lot of his customers from Canada have suffered from a negative impact of the political relationship between the two countries and the exchange rates. He added that, recently, Cuba and Mexico started targeting the Canadian market.
CEO of Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, Stacy Ritter, said that the bureau now focused on communicating with Canadians and letting them now that South Florida was a hospitable place. She claimed that Florida was a diverse place and that there was a disparity in what people from Washington said and what you could find in Broward County.
During peak season for snowbirds, you can find many Canadian flags lined lining up on roadsides. Canadians have left a clear mark on South Florida’s culture, with restaurants offering Canadian dishes, such as poutine. They also have a newspaper in the French language. Ritter said that she was in favor of the Act, as it would bring more money to Floridians.