VANCOUVER, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Canada is looking for 50 wealthy foreigners to join a pilot run of an immigration program for millionaires, although applicants will have to be far richer than those who entered under a previous scheme and will also need language skills to get in.
The federal government, which scrapped its previous investor class visa earlier this year amid criticism it was allowing rich Chinese to buy their way into Canada, will start accepting applicants for the new Immigrant Investor Venture Capital plan in January.
Under the new program, would-be immigrants will have to invest a minimum of C$2 million ($1.7 million) in Canada for a 15-year period and must have a net worth of at least C$10 million, the government said on Tuesday. They must also meet a new requirement that they speak English or French, among other criteria.
Many of Canada's wealthy immigrants flock to major cities like Vancouver and Toronto.
Realtors who sell homes in Vancouver's top neighborhoods said the new language rules will exclude many people who had hoped to enter under the previous program.
"For investment immigrants, before, if you had enough money, then it was very easy to come here," said Na An, an agent with Royal Pacific Realty Group. "But with the language requirement, I think they will block a lot of people."
Na said that could push wealthy foreigners to choose other jurisdictions, like Britain or Australia, or they could simply enter Canada under a 10-year multiple entry visa.
Launched in the mid-1980s, Canada's immigrant investor program promised a fast-track visa for foreigners with a net worth of C$800,000 and some C$400,000 to invest. The minimums were later upped to a net worth of C$1.6 million and C$800,000 to invest. There was no language requirement.
The program was wildly popular, particularly with ethnic Chinese investors - first from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and later from mainland China. Vancouver, with its proximity to the Asia-Pacific region, was the preferred destination.
But applications surged over the last decade and the scheme was frozen in 2012 as officials scrambled to clear the backlog. Canada officially canceled the program earlier this year. ($1 = 1.1587 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)