Bill would let older Canadians stay in Florida longer, but why would they want to?

Cox NewspapersApril 22, 2014 

WEST PALM BEACH

Why would Canadian retirees want to spend more than six months a year in Florida?

I ask this question because federal lawmakers are rewriting an immigration bill that would allow Canadian snowbirds who come to Florida for the winter to stay an extra two months.

It's something called the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act. It has already passed the U.S. Senate, and it's now working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.

If it passes, Canadians who come to Florida on a snowbird retiree visa would get to stay here for 240 days a year, instead of the 182-maximum that exists today.

The new visas, renewable every three years, would allow Canadians over the age of 50, along with their spouses and dependent children, to stay the extra time.

More tourism money

This means that Floridians could count on getting the state to themselves for only three whole months a year: July, August, and September.

Florida tourism officials estimate that The JOLT Act could mean an extra 30 percent in spending on Florida housing, food and entertainment by these Canadian lingerers.

But that assumes that Canadian retirees will actually stay that extra time.

So let's say they leave Canada on Oct. 15th after the season's first blast of wintry air. That will mean these snowbirds would remain in Florida until the middle of June.

Florida in mid-June?

Most of the people who live in Florida don't yearn to be here in the middle of June.

So why would somebody who has a home in, say, Toronto, where the June days are dry and sunny and the temperatures typically range from 62 degrees at night to 74 degrees during the day, want to still be in hot-and-humid-highs-near-90 afternoon-thunderstorm South Florida?

The reality is that after 182 days in South Florida, our cherished mild winters have given way to a time of year when Canada's weather is far more desireable.

And then there are other considerations. Like taxes, for example.

The Internal Revenue Service looks at the time spent by a snowbird in the United States, and if that visitor is determined to have a "substantial presence" here, he or she could be liable for U.S. taxes.

Canadians have traditionally avoided these taxes by filling out a "closer connection exception" IRS form. But about 81 percent of the Canadian snowbirds who come to Florida own a second home in Florida and if they spend 240 days a year here, it seems like they're becoming more American than Canadian and ought to be paying more in U.S. taxes.

And they'd also be depending on our expensive health care system more.

Why would Canadians want to do that?

And what about us? Don't we get a say in this?

We like 182 days of Canadian snowbirds just fine.

But 240 days of Canadian snowbirds? I'm not sure we can handle it.

Kind, considerate? Yes!

It might drive the New York transplants here a little crazy, because, let's face it, Canadian snowbirds tend to be kind and considerate -- not exactly the sort of traits that blend in well here.

They are, as their immigration status suggests, "aliens" in Florida.

We tend to be a much less gracious bunch. And all that Canadian wholesomeness might just be too much to take, leaving us with a JOLT Act that's a little too jolting for us.

Frank Cerabino, writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: frank_cerabino@pbpost.com.

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