The American Senate is considering a “snowbird” provision that would allow retired Canadians over the age of 55 to stay in the U.S. for up to eight months, instead of the current maximum stay of six months. “Snowbird” is a common term for retired Canadians who “migrate” to warmer southern U.S. states in the winters, often buying or renting vacation homes and spending the maximum time allowed there.
The provision is a part of the proposed JOLT (Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel) Act – comprehensive immigration reform that was introduced to the United States Senate in April of 2013. The JOLT Act is intended to expand international travel to the United States in order to spur economic growth.
The provision would create a Canadian Retiree Visa that would extend the allotted time in the country for retirees who:
· Are aged 55 or over.
· Are Canadian citizens.
· Have a permanent residence in Canada.
· Own a second home in the U.S., or have confirmed rental home or hotel reservations.
The snowbird’s younger spouse would also qualify for the two-month extension if the couple is travelling together. Canadian Retiree Visa holders could not work or seek any sort of assistance or benefits while in the U.S. Any time spent outside of the U.S. during the visa period would not be subtracted from the eight months.
The Canadian Snowbird Association, a non-profit advocacy organization for Canadian travelers, has been campaigning for this change for years. Association researcher Evan Rachkovsky says there is wide support for the proposal among the over 100 members of Congress the organization has talked to.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer introduced the proposal, which he says has not been controversial. He points out that Canadians “help spur the economy”, and are the second largest source of tourist dollars (next to Americans) in several cities in New York State.
Under current legislation, all Canadians entering the U.S. as vacationers are limited to six months (less a day) in the U.S. in any 12-month period. This often results in snowbirds needing to cut their vacation short, and then being unable to cross into the States for so much as a day’s shopping until the remainder of their 12-month period is up.
Presently, retirees who lose sight or are not aware of this restriction run the risk of being arrested as an “illegal alien”. They may also face an unexpected tax bill – anyone living in the U.S. for over six months is required to pay taxes there. And it’s likely that they will be barred from re-entering the States for some years after being caught overstaying their visit.
According to the Canadian Snowbird Association, over one million Canadian snowbirds travelled to the U.S. in 2011 – a major contribution to the American economy. Canadians are the largest foreign buyers of homes in the U.S., with more than half a million Canadians owning homes in Florida alone. Other popular snowbird migration grounds include Arizona, Texas and California.
While an extra two months may not sound like a lot to some, American resort owners, realtors, restaurants, retail and grocery stores, golf courses, etc. that stand to benefit from the extension insist that the spin-off will be significant for them. Florida tourism officials point out that there are close to 500,000 jobs based on tourism in that state alone.
Even if the provision is approved, there are several barriers remaining for Canadians who would like to take advantage of a Canadian Retiree Visa. One is the aforementioned requirement that they pay U.S. taxes after a stay of over six months, another is that most provinces will not continue to provide health benefits for anyone who is out of the province for more than six or seven months, and a third is that some vehicle insurance does not allow a vehicle to be out of the province it is registered in for over six months. But rest assured that the Canadian Snowbird Association has those issues on its radar too.
Leonardo Dawson enjoys sharing his travel expertise through blogging. Visit the BestQuote Travel Insurance website for more travel information.