U.S. bill would give snowbirds more time to spend in the sun

Canadian snowbirds may soon be able to spend an extra two months nesting in their favourite sunshine state each year. U.S. legislation winding its way through Congress would allow Canadians aged 55 and older to spend up to 240 days — about eight months — in the country without a visa, 58 days longer than the current 182-day annual limit.

OTTAWA — Canadian snowbirds may soon be able to spend an extra two months nesting in their favourite sunshine state each year.

U.S. legislation winding its way through Congress would allow Canadians aged 55 and older to spend up to 240 days — about eight months — in the country without a visa, 58 days longer than the current 182-day annual limit.

The provision is not yet law, but it has the backing of powerful New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who was recently one of the leading voices to speak out against a rejected proposal to impose a border crossing fee on Canadians.

In a New York Times article, a spokesman for Schumer is quoted as supporting the Canadian proposal, along with relaxing visa requirements on nationals from several other countries.“Each of these provisions makes individual sense on the merits,” the spokesman is quoted as saying. “They each solve inequities in the existing immigration law.”

The Canadian Snowbird Association says it has been pushing for the change for years. A previous bill died in committee, but association researcher Evan Rachkovsky said he believes the latest proposal stands a good chance of passage. The Senate version of the bill could be voted on this summer.

Rachkovsky said his organization has talked to more than 100 members of the U.S. Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — and has found wide support for the proposal.

“That it’s attached to comprehensive immigration reform, I think that increases the likelihood of it becoming law,” he said. “We definitely remain optimistic.”

Canadians represent a major boost to the economy in the U.S., particularly southern states such as Florida. Recently the state dropped a provision requiring an annual international drivers permit after objections raised from the strong Canadian lobby.

In 2011, more than 44 million Canadians travelled to the U.S., spending more than $16.5 billion.

As well, Canadians are by far the largest foreign buyers of residential real estate in the U.S., purchasing an estimated $20 billion of housing in 2012 alone.

Rachkovsky said a major reason for seeking the change is that Canadians who spend the winter in the southern U.S. often complain to his association that after exhausting the 182 days for any calendar year, they were precluded from shorter trips to visit relatives and friends in border states.

“Having an extra two months will give them greater flexibility,” he said.

Some stumbling blocks to the practicality of spending eight months of the year in the U.S. remain.

Health coverage from Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba permits a maximum of seven months per year outside the country, while for Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, among others, the limit is the equivalent of six months.

“We always monitor legislation impacting Canada very closely, and we support any efforts to increase trade and tourism between our two countries,” a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Canada also has a rule that allows Americans to spend a maximum of six months north of the border.

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