Canada still wants you, minister tells Chinese applicants in axed investor migrant programme

Immigration chief tells applicants in Hong Kong and on mainland not to give up after scrapping of the hugely popular investor visa programme

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 February, 2014, 11:21am

Canada's immigration minister has invited tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires to find other ways of getting into the country.

The appeal comes after the scrapping of a controversial investor visa scheme that resulted in their applications being dumped.

Chris Alexander also used an interview with the South China Morning Post on Wednesday to reassure would-be migrants in Hong Kong and on the mainland that Canada's immigration system remained open for business.

He was speaking a day after the Conservative government in Ottawa announced it was ending the 28-year-old Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) and dumping the backlogged applications of 65,000 visa-seekers.

They included applications from about 45,500 rich mainlanders at the Hong Kong consulate. "Anyone in this backlog realises it was going to take eight or nine years to get to their applications," Alexander said.

"What we are saying to them is that all of our other immigration programmes are available to you. Find the one that fits best for your situation."

The IIP had become the world's most popular wealth-based migration scheme before it overwhelmed Canada's consulate in Hong Kong, a Post investigation revealed last week. The government froze applications worldwide in 2012.

In the last full year of operation, 86 per cent of its applicants were mainland millionaires.

Under the scheme, principal applicants worth a minimum of C$1.6 million (HK$11.3 million) simply loaned the Canadian government C$800,000 interest free for five years. In exchange they received visas for themselves and their families, with the option of applying for citizenship.

The IIP proved wildly popular with rich mainlanders and in 2010 alone, applications from more than 34,000 swamped the Hong Kong consulate.

Alexander, who said he was made aware of the situation at the Hong Kong consulate when he took over as minister last July, said the days of risk-free investor migration to Canada were over.

But he touted a new Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Fund, to be launched later this year, which will demand visa-seekers provide a larger sum and put it into targeted "at-risk" investments.

Alexander said the old scheme was beset by abuse and fraud, with many migrants simply returning to their former countries to continue working while leaving their spouse and children in Canada.

The phenomenon was particularly widespread among rich Chinese immigrants.

"A significant number of people made a commitment to reside in Canada as a condition of the programme, but without actually having the intention to reside. Any programme that became subject to abuse and fraud on that scale had to be reformed," Alexander said.

He denied the axing of the scheme was designed to target Chinese migrants. "It was a global programme," he said.

"No one should be surprised that we took this action. It reflects our approach to immigration as a whole … we want to tackle abuse and fraud wherever we find it."

Alexander said he did not want rich Chinese to feel unwelcome as a result of the IIP's axing . He urged those whose applications were dumped to look for other ways into Canada.

"Our message to would-be immigrants around the world, but especially in China and Hong Kong, is that we are recruiting talent on a scale that we never have before," Alexander said.

"There is a range of pathways open to them [and] all of these programmes are dominated by Asian countries. We expect that to continue and grow."

A spokesman for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong would not comment.