Canadians who can’t get enough of South Florida’s sunny beaches are gaining some help from Congress.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-West Boca, has introduced the “Canadian Snowbird Visa Act,” which would allow Canadians to stay an extra two months in the United States if they own or lease a home there. Deutch said the bipartisan measure would be good for business because Canadians visiting the Sunshine State pour about $4.5 billion annually into the state’s economy.
“If our chilly neighbors to the north want to spend more time on our warm Florida beaches, we should welcome them with open arms,” Deutch said.
Canada is the top source of international visitors to Florida, but the numbers have been falling, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism organization. About 3.2 million Canadians visited Florida in 2016, down 15 percent from the previous year, according to Visit Florida’s research. Existing law limits the amount of time a Canadian visitor may spend in the U.S. to 182 days per year — about six months.
Deutch’s bill would permit Canadians over the age of 50 who own or rent a U.S. residence to stay in the U.S. for an additional two months each year. They would be prohibited from working for a U.S. employer or collecting public assistance and would continue to be subject to the vetting process required by law.
Canadians purchased a record $19 billion in U.S. residential real estate last year, second only to the Chinese, according to the National Association of Realtors. Nearly half of all foreign sales were in three states: Florida, California and Texas.
Allowing Canadians to stay longer could push those numbers even higher. However, the effect may not be as robust as some are predicting. One limiting factor, is that Canadians must maintain their residency to remain eligible for their government-run health care plans. Requirements vary by province. Residents of Ontario risk losing their eligibility if they are absent for longer than seven months.
The Internal Revenue Service would also need to amend its rules to allow snowbirds staying the entire eight months to be exempt from U.S. taxes, Leathwood said. Canadians have made their stamp on South Florida’s culture. Maple leaf flags line roadsides during peak snowbird season. Restaurants dish out pouting, a popular dish in Canada of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. A French-language newspaper caters to Canadian snowbirds.
Interest from the north helps fill restaurants and attractions throughout South Florida, said Ashley Svarney, a spokeswoman for Discover the Palm Beaches, a tourism marketing organization.
“We are always looking to attract more Canadian visitors,” she said. “Canada is one of our top feeder markets.”