01/20/2012 04:51 EST | Updated 03/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada to enforce sanctions on Iranian immigrant investors

The federal government is set to clarify how it will deal with applications for investor-class immigration to Canada from Iran, CBC News has learned.

Canada imposed sanctions last November, freezing all financial transactions with the Middle East state in an attempt to put pressure on the Iranian regime. But those sanctions effectively shelved the applications of Iranian nationals trying to immigrate to Canada under the investor class, putting those applications in limbo.

Senior government sources say Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will issue an operational order to his officials Friday, saying they must "strictly enforce" the sanctions on Iran when dealing with investor-class applications.

Under Immigration Department rules, any investor-class applicant must pledge to invest $800,000 in the Canadian economy.

The government sources said the sanctions will be upheld in all cases where the applicant is seeking to transfer funds to Canada from Iran as part of the immigration process. But Iranian citizens whose funds are held in other countries will still be allowed to apply under the investor class program.

Banks awaiting clarification

For weeks, Canadian banks have been confused about how to deal with applications from Iranian citizens within the investor class, said Nicolas Salerno, the vice president of Arton Capital in Montreal. His firm handled about 40 per cent of all Iranian immigrant investor cases last year in the province of Quebec.

"I know that a lot of banks are looking for answers," Salerno said yesterday. "They want to finance Iranians but are in an uncomfortable position because of the actual non-position of [Citizenship and Immigration] on the topic."

Salerno said it's good news that Iranian citizens who have access to funds outside Iran will still be eligible for the investor class. But he estimates about 25 per cent of Iranians who want to apply will have all their funds tied up in their home country.

"There will be consequences definitely for large portions of the population," he said. "[But] I think it's going to be less than if they target anybody in Iran or all citizens of Iran. As long as it only targets the financial flow from Iran it's already a better interpretation than what we heard before."

Appeal will be allowed

The government sources also said that Iranians excluded from the investor class will be allowed to appeal for an exemption. Such exemptions would have to be personally approved by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

The Quebec government, which runs its own immigration system with help from Ottawa, has signalled it is waiting for Ottawa to clarify how it will deal with Iranian investor-class applicants.

Asked about the issue Thursday, Premier Jean Charest indicated he was still waiting to hear from the federal government about its plans. "If the federal government chooses to implement sanctions, and if there are consequences here that we should be made aware of, I assume they'll inform us of that."

Iranians form the fourth largest group of immigrant investors to Canada, and the second largest group of immigrant investors to Quebec. In 2010, Quebec received more than 1,600 investor-class applications from Iranian citizens.

On balance, Iranian investor-class applicants are estimated to have contributed $350 million to the Canadian economy in the past five years.