At least 1,300 millionaires from mainland China have decided to sue the Canadian immigration authorities after the country decided to terminate its immigrant investor program for which the complainants had applied.
Each of the complainants is asking for CAD5m (around USD4.57m) in compensation should the Canadian government continue to refuse to assess their cases.
The Chinese mainlanders paid around USD1.7m as application deposit when they applied for immigration under Canada's 25-year-old Immigrant Investor Program (IIP).
Tim Leahy, the Canada-based lawyer representing the claimants, said the 1,335 wealthy Chinese citizens submitted their immigration applications in Hong Kong but immigration authorities in Canada slowed the processing before eventually suspended the IIP program last February. The IIP had allowed foreigners to migrate to Canada provided that they had a net worth of CAD1.6m (USD1.5).
The South China Morning Post said Tim Leahy, the Toronto lawyer behind the Federal Court case that goes before Justice Mary Gleason, is seeking C$5million (HK$35.7 million) in compensation for each applicant and their dependents unless the government agrees to assess their cases.
Leahy said 1,335 of his 1,446 clients had lodged their applications for the federal Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP]) in Hong Kong. Virtually all of the Hong Kong applicants are mainland Chinese.
The litigation, if successful, represents a potential payout of C$18 billion, based on an average of 2.5 individuals per application. Leahy regards the threat of such a payout as the "poison pill" that would force the processing of the applications.
Although the scheme's cancellation was announced in the Canadian federal budget on February 11, the termination of the applications in the queue will not go into effect until the budget is passed, expected on June 26.
"Faced with that [C$18 billion] cost, I would expect CIC [Citizenship and Immigration Canada] to agree to finalise the cases on the merits even though it will have terminated your file when the budget nill passes," Leahy said in an e-mail to clients last month that was also shared with the South China Morning Post.
Leahy said that by inserting the IIP's cancellation and the backlog's termination in a budget bill, the government was seeking to avoid "full parliamentary scrutiny".
Immigration data shows that of the 66,423 individuals in the federal immigrant investor backlog as of last July, 50,131 had lodged their applications via Hong Kong.
Leahy claimed that immigration authorities unfairly slowed the processing of applications under the federal IIP well ahead of its cancellation. He drew a contrast with the rate at which applications were processed under a parallel scheme run by the province of Quebec. That scheme continues to operate.
"If CIC had allocated to the rest of Canada an FIIP quota equal on a per capita basis to the quota it allocates to Quebec, there would be no FIIP inventory. All the files would have been finalised by now," Leahy claimed.
Leahy's lawsuit includes would-be migrants who lodged applications in Ankara, London, New Delhi, Paris, Port-of-Spain, Pretoria and Singapore, in addition to those from Hong Kong.
Federal authorities have not commented publicly on the case.
The announcement that the federal IIP would be shut down came less than a week after the South China Morning Post published a series of reports that revealed how tens of thousands of applications to the scheme by rich mainlanders had swamped Canada's Hong Kong consulate, creating the vast backlog.
The IIP was a key means of migration for rich Hongkongers and mainland Chinese over the past 28 years.
Under the scheme, applicants worth a minimum of C$1.6 million received visas for themselves and their immediate family in return for loaning the government C$800,000 interest-free for five years, after which the loan was returned in full.
Leahy refused to say how much he was being paid by his clients. However, in March he told the Post that he was charging an up-front fee with a similar amount payable should the case prove successful. He said the total fees would be in the four-figure Canadian-dollar range.