• Wed
  • Sep 17, 2014
  • Updated: 9:26am
PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 1:31am

Canada's immigration headache

Peter Kammerer says Canada's struggle to find the right mix and pace of immigration is all too common in a globalised world

As an ethnic minority in a city that was not of my birth, I'm only too aware of the need to fit in. But learning about culture and coming to terms with a new language and different way of life take time. Even then, if you're financially better off than those around you or are more conservative in your beliefs, the integration will take longer. I suspect it's a lack of understanding that's in large part behind opposition to wealthy mainland Chinese being given residency in other countries.

Canada is not a place you'd expect such criticism. Its people are exceptionally liberal-minded and are proud of their country's multicultural diversity. No nation takes in as many refugees and few can claim a society that is as racially, religiously and socially tolerant. I was surprised that a migrant investment scheme that had been attracting Chinese millionaires had been shut down over concern that passports were being given out too freely.

To gain residency, the mainlanders had only to prove they had at least C$1.6 million (HK$11.3 million) and were willing to loan the government C$800,000 interest-free for five years. Finance minister Jim Flaherty explained in scrapping the scheme last week that the terms for eventually gaining a passport were more generous than those required by other governments. But there was more to it than that: residents of Vancouver, where the majority of the newcomers were settling, said the migrants were not making enough effort to fit in.

I've heard that before, from my mother towards foreign migrants to her small, inland Australian city, and it's a commonly voiced complaint in less racially tolerant parts of the world. It's a fact in Hong Kong, where there are "gweilo enclaves" when it comes to where to live and go for entertainment. It can apply as much to race as nationality.

For Vancouver's residents, the mainland migrants were that and more. As in other cities around the world where they are buying property, they were perceived to be driving up prices and that, in turn, was raising the cost of living in the city. Few of those accepted for the investment programme set up companies and most claimed to be retired or unemployed, meaning they did not pay taxes; after relocating families, a number returned to China.

For Canadians, though, there was the added backdrop of a long-running debate over citizenship. Instances of migrants being found to have helped fund overseas terrorist groups and people taking citizenship and then living in other countries where they expected government help in times of need prompted argument about loyalty and commitment. That is understandable given the circumstances, but it also has to be appreciated that any migration system has to be based on needs, expectations and fine-tuning. Each society's anticipated outcomes will be different.

In a globalised world, governments are in hot competition for investment and talent. But, as much as countries need to grow their economies and populations to thrive, they have to ensure the process takes place in a fair and sustainable manner. That requires as much give-and-take from those already living in a city as it does from the newcomers.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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The Canadians / Government here was a bit short sighted. Yes, lets say that 30% of the mothers / children stay in Canada while the father goes back to China / Hong Kong. There is the slight offsetting of US$30,000 made off the interest of the loan. But there are also jobs created in Vancouver to service the extra people: shops, rates on those expensive houses, real estate agents, restaurants etc... (allot of the wealth must be sent back each month to support the families).
I think naysayers will say that this return does not equal the value of what Canada offers.
But they forget that those Children educated and who grew up in Canada will stay in Canada and help grow the country and be tax payers in the future.
Generally immigrants to Canada will not be a drain on welfare / unemployment / pension and other government services.
Bo Xilai
Peter you said it yourself:
"Its people are exceptionally liberal-minded and are proud of their country's multicultural diversity."
We are liberal-minded and proud of our multicultural diversity, but tolerance has a limit. Imagine what Vancouverites endured to make us get to the point where we wanted the Investor Immigrant program scrapped?
Perhaps I can elucidate a little...
-The AVERAGE price for a detached home in Vancouver is 929K and the average household salary is 67K. There is a general perception that our economic and housing policies are no longer being determined for the benefit of those born and raised in Canada. There is a general perception that politicians, real estate agents and developers solely saw the local population as paupers/labourers while IIP immigrants were show the most obsequious attention.
- All new drivers in BC have to put a "N" sticker on the back of their vehicle. Why? I guess it's a warning to all other drivers. A common joke here is the easiest way to find an IIP immigrant is to look for a Ferrari or Lamborghini with a "N" sticker on it. The wealth is being shoved in people's faces here and it stuck in the craw of many people here. Especially since the locals knew the reputation of "black money" from China's mainland.
- The perception here is mainland money is just looking for a passport as an "insurance policy" if/when things turn badly in Mainland China. It's hard to accept your homeland is just a backup plan.
I am surprised that Peter, a respected senior writer wrote such a superficial story on this topic.
Greenwash below wrote it politely, the point is the new "rich" immigrants leave their families in Canada enjoying the Canadian benefits WITHOUT working and thus paying little/no taxes, while the breadwinner went back to HK or China to do business.
Does this sound like true immigration and contributing to Canadian society Peter?
I guess not.
It should require a lot more than money to get citizenship. Loyalty and civilised cultural values are important too.
Peter, if you had closely read the SCMP's own articles on Canada's Immigrant Investor scheme, the concerns about the program were more fundamental and simple than you suggest:
1) The program was perceived by Canadians to be unfair (you mentioned unfairness but not of this kind). Tens of thousands of Canadians have applied to sponsor / have admitted to Canada family relatives. These Canadians do not have Cdn$800,000 lying around to loan to the government, so they have to apply under the other immigration categories. But what is the net benefit of the 800k loan? Maybe government interest savings of perhaps Cdn$30,000? And at what cost to the government?
2) The Canadian government stated that tax returns from those admitted under the program were much lower than for other immigration programs. This politely said that many of these mainland and other immigrants went back to China to work and paid no income tax in Canada.
3) Many Vancouver residents have noticed that the wives and children of these immigrants have stayed in Canada to attend free school, use free medical care, etc. without the family paying any tax, and while driving up housing prices. This was also perceived to be unfair.
These costs do not even take into consideration government administration costs, and reputational costs to all the immigration programs.
So, perhaps, the reason the Canadian government closed the program simple. It wasn't working to the benefit of Canada or other Canadians.


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