Changing Canadian immigration laws have placed the owners of the Whale Watch Inn on Campobello Island in a precarious position that may force them to sell or shutter the inn and move back to the United States in March 2018. U.S. citizens Jim and Fran Lagerfeld had owned a residence on the island since 2005, and when they were ready to retire in 2010 their plans included purchasing the Whale Watch Inn and moving to the island permanently, which they did in 2012. But in the two years that they were negotiating the purchase, immigration laws changed.
The couple had thought they could tap into the investor visa, but with changes to that visa, they no longer qualified. Fran Lagerfeld explains that on the advice of a lawyer they had hired to help them navigate the complex process, they instead applied for a work permit visa. Because the couple had lived and worked in Canada off and on over the years, they had permanent resident visas. The visas had to be given up in order to qualify for the work permit visa. Now every time they cross the border they are held up for 30 minutes having to explain why they gave up their permanent resident status. It's an inconvenience added to the already laborious travel that island residents are more than familiar with when needing services on the Canadian mainland.
The border crossing inconvenience is nothing in comparison to what they've been facing as owners of the motel. On the advice of another lawyer, the couple applied in 2014 under the Canadian Experience Class category. "Since then we've been in limbo," Fran says. They are using a "bridge" work permit because of the application in process. Since 2014 they've been living year‑round on the island, running the motel, hiring people, paying taxes and contributing as volunteers to the community. "At any moment they could say, 'You don't get that status,'" and they'd have to leave.
Added to the state of limbo is Jim Lagerfeld's health. Diagnosed with prostate cancer, he receives specialized treatment at Sloan‑Kettering in the United States. The couple were told, if they filled out Canadian paperwork that waived the right to Canadian healthcare for existing conditions and treatment such as the cancer, that would help their application process. Back in March they filled out the paperwork waiving such rights and haven't heard a word since.
"At this point we have to sell," Fran says. "We can't take the risk. If we don't receive status we would have to be out when the visa ends in March." She adds, "Everything we own is here C the house since 2005 and the motel since 2012." She is confounded by the bureaucratic layers and the apparent policy disconnect in immigration goals for the country.
New Brunswick is the only province in Canada to have lost population in the last five years. According to Statistics Canada, Campobello Island illustrates the loss happening overall, with a decline from 1,200 in 2001 to 872 in 2016.
"What they want doesn't fit the reality. Obviously it would be great to have young people moving here, raising families, bringing jobs, but they don't have the money, or they don't want to be in very tiny communities with one small school and no health services," Fran says. "They need older people with money."
But, she adds, "If you're over 55 and want to move to New Brunswick, I would say that you can't. And if you're under 55, it's unlikely you're finished with your financial obligations," such as putting children through college and caring for elderly parents. "I just don't get it, that we would be [perceived] as such a financial drag because of medical costs, especially after we signed paperwork. It's shortsighted of them." She explains that the baby boomer population are the people out there who have financial resources and the energy and will to want to do things.
"What's not to like?"
The Lagerfelds have reached out to MP Karen Ludwig and local MLA John Ames, who is minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture. While both have been responsive, the Lagerfelds say, the assistance has been limited. Ludwig, member of Parliament for New Brunswick Southwest, says, "Although I am unable to comment on specific immigration cases due to confidentiality, I assure you that our government is maintaining its commitment to a strong immigration program and will welcome 300,000 immigrants in 2017.
The 2017 levels will put the region in a strong position for the future while supporting our country's overall economic and social development."