VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Canada is easing the requirements for some students from Hong Kong to stay in Canada, a reaction to crackdowns by China in the former British colony.
Starting this month, the government will allow work permits to be granted to Hong Kong residents who have graduated from a Canadian university, or a similar school, in the last five years. The permits will last for up to three years. Subsequently, the students can apply to become permanent residents and eventually Canadian citizens.
The move is a direct response to the National Security Law in Hong Kong. It follows moves by other countries, such as Britain, which is now allowing those with British National Overseas passports to come and stay there.
Graduates who have already returned to Hong Kong can apply, as can those with education credentials from other countries, provided the diploma came from a program of at least two years.
Given the current travel restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic, the first applicants are most likely already in Canada.
Vancouver immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland said the move had been expected, but the timing appeared to be related to the latest arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
“Well, no surprise," he said. "This has been on the planning books for a long time in anticipation of events in Hong Kong progressing as they have been progressing. It's the timing of the announcement, which is key.”
A student from Hong Kong, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal, is about to graduate from a Canadian university and said she hoped the new regulations would allow her to quickly get a work permit and start her career.
She said that for her family, the new regulations were a relief.
“I think my family, they are happy about the policy," she said. "They were pretty worried because of the pandemic, as well as for the future, in Hong Kong. So I guess for my family, that's a good sign.”
Infusion of energy
Hong Kong native Miu Chung Yan, a professor of social work at the University of British Columbia, has extensively studied the settlement of immigrants and refugees. He is also involved with the Vancouver Hong Kong Forum Society, which helps immigrants from Hong Kong settle into Canadian society.
He said the new immigration rules would allow an increase of energetic, young, well-trained professionals for the Canadian labor market. He also said he thought the rules would revitalize the Hong Kong and Asian communities in Canada.
“So now if we can have a new group of [the] younger generation to come and join, I think that will ... energize the community and also push up the economy a little bit, the so-called ethnic economy," he said. "So I think those are good things.”
The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said it would create two more plans for Hong Kong residents to become permanent residents.
Kurland, the immigration lawyer, said he found it surprising that the Canadian government was not revealing all the plans at once. He said the delay appeared to be tied to actions the Chinese government is taking incrementally in Hong Kong.
“Rather than release the plan in its entirety, the government of Canada is engaging in a kind of communication striptease exercise," he said. "Every time there's a negative headline from Hong Kong affecting potential migration to Canada from either Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, or people living in Hong Kong, the communications response is to reveal one more page of Canada's plan to absorb hundreds of thousands of people from Hong Kong to Canada.”
Work, education experience
One plan will apply to individuals who have at least one year of work experience in Canada and who speak either English or French and meet educational standards. The second program will allow those who have graduated from postsecondary schools, like a university or technical college, to directly apply to become permanent residents of Canada.
It is not known when further details will be announced or when they will take effect.
The government estimates there are more than 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong. This makes it one of the largest communities of Canadians outside the country.