How long should Canadian residents be allowed to stay in the U.S. at a stretch?
Last year, Canada accounted for 21.5 million visitors to the U.S., or more than a quarter of all American tourists. Many of them are retirees looking to escape their comparatively colder home country for a more hospitable southern climate, for months at a time during the winter.
Currently, Canadian citizens can stay in the U.S. for six months in a year without a visa, meaning using only their passport.
What the legislation does
The Canadian Snowbirds Act, also known as the Canadian Snowbirds Visa Act, would allow residents of the Great White North who are over age 50 and own or rent a home in the U.S. to visit the U.S. for eight months. That would be up from the six months currently allowed.
The legislation would specifically prohibit such Canadians from either working for an American employer or receiving any form of public assistance — such as food stamps or housing vouchers — paid for by American taxpayers.
Two slightly differing versions of essentially the same legislation have been introduced in each chamber.
The House version, the Canadian Snowbirds Visa Act, was introduced on June 12 as bill number H.R. 3241, by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY21). The Senate version, the Candian Snowbirds Act, was introduced three months later on September 18 as bill number S. 2507, by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that Canadians help the American economy when they come over, and should not be so suppressed in the durations of their stays.
“Our Canadian visitors are also critically important to the North Country’s tourism industry and our economy as a whole,” Rep. Stefanik said in a press release. “We are lucky to share the St. Lawrence River, and our neighbors to the North frequently cross the border in the summer months to boat, hike, or visit one of our many historical sites. Providing them with an extra two months to participate in these activities will grow small businesses, create jobs, and foster our relationship with our closest economic ally.
“Tourism is a crucial part of Florida’s booming economy, creating and supporting thousands of jobs all across the Sunshine State,” Sen. Rubio said in a separate press release. “This bill will be a huge boost to our state’s economy by allowing the millions of Canadian snowbirds who visit Florida each year to stay two months longer.”
What opponents say
GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition, but an editorial otherwise in support of the legislation noted a Devil’s Advocate argument against.
Florida is the most popular destination for Canadian tourists and visitors, so “while other states’ economic envy and parochial interests may work against it,” the Florida newspaper The News Chief editorialized in an otherwise-supportive editorial. Other states which neither border Canada nor host snowbird populations “might have little incentive to help grow Florida’s economy by extending the time Canadians can spend in America.”
Odds of passage
The House version has attracted 19 bipartisan cosponsors: 10 Democrats and nine Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Judiciary or Ways and Means Committee.
In theory, the bill’s bipartisan cosponsorship would make it likely for passage. However, a previous July 2017 version attracted an even larger 40 bipartisan cosponsors — 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats — but never received a vote.
The Senate version has attracted one Republican cosponsor, and awaits a potential vote in the Senate Finance Committee. A previous July 2018 version attracted a Democratic and Republican cosponsor each, but never received a vote.