240-Day Visa for Canadians? Maybe. Maybe Not.

In recent weeks Canadian media have been reporting that snowbirds may soon be able to extend their visits in the US from 182 days to 240 (eight months) per year. Sounds good—but don’t start packing just yet. This is not a done deal.

On June 27, 2013, The US Senate passed a massive, and very contentious, immigration reform bill aimed primarily at strengthening border security, modernizing visa processing, and stimulating tourism. One very small item attached to this bill was the creation of a snowbird visa that would allow Canadian retirees to live in the US for up to 240 days per year—so long as they meet certain criteria. They must:

  • be at least 50,
  • own a residence in the US or have purchased rental or hotel accommodations for the duration of their stay, and
  • be otherwise admissible to enter the US (have valid passports, etc.).

They would not be permitted to work during their stay or access any US government benefits, and they would also be subject to some very serious tax consequences that they do not currently face under the B2 visa that allows them to reside in the US for 182 days. 

One international tax advisory firm noted that “the would-be holders of the Snowbird Visa can become subject to US income tax and US estate tax, and, therefore, inadvertently light the fuse on the Snowbird Visa TAX BOMB.” 

In coming weeks, Travelinsurancefile will provide commentary on the potential tax implications inherent in the snowbird visa. But first there is still the reality that this is not yet a done deal.

The primary purpose of the immigration reform bill passed in the Senate is to deal with the huge influx of undocumented or illegal aliens, to provide them a path to citizenship, and to secure America’s southern border. It’s doubtful that many of the lawmakers even know that the snowbird visa item is buried in the 880 pages of the Senate bill. Actually it’s in Sections 4503 and 4504.

To become law, the Senate immigration reform bill must be passed by the House of Representatives before it can be sent to the President for his signature. But the Speaker of the House has already insisted the House will write a bill of its own, and Republicans and some Democrats in the House are insisting on securing the southern border before offering a pathway to citizenship for people who come to the US illegally.

Reconciling the Senate and House bill (if there is one) is going to require tough negotiation. But with summer recess coming up for Congress in August, it’s doubtful any meaningful negotiation will happen before the fall, possibly not until 2014. And whether or not the snowbird visa survives the negotiations is anybody’s guess.

So go ahead and make your plans for the coming winter, but don’t count on an eight month visit—not yet, anyway.


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