Visa approvals for would-be investor migrants to British Columbia (BC) have plunged, an investigation into Canada's millionaire migration scheme has found - but federal authorities deny trying to stem the influx of rich Chinese to the province.
Tens of thousands of wealthy mainlanders have settled in Vancouver, BC's biggest city, in recent years, raising concerns about their social and economic impact, including on the city's sky-high property market.
Data obtained by the South China Morning Post found that approvals to move to BC under the federal Immigrant Investor Programme in 2012 dropped to 1,778, down 42 per cent compared to the average of more than 3,000 per year for the preceding five years.
Actual arrivals also slumped. From 2003 to 2010, BC consistently received about 50 per cent of all investor migrant arrivals nationally. However, in 2011, BC's share fell to 36 per cent. In 2012, it fell again, to 28 per cent (the national tallies include a separate scheme run by Quebec).
Under the federal investor programme, principal applicants worth a minimum C$1.6 million (HK$11.25 million) must loan the Canadian government C$800,000 interest-free for five years. They and their dependents get residency visas and can apply for citizenship later.
But applications have been frozen since 2012 to clear a massive backlog of would-be migrants, most of them Chinese.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) denied the declines were an attempt to reduce the number of rich migrants heading for BC. About 37,000 officially arrived there from 2005 to 2012.
"CIC has not deliberately increased or decreased the number of applications it processes based on province of destination. Generally speaking, CIC processes applications on a first come, first served basis," spokeswoman Sonia Lesage said.
Lesage did not address a question about whether the processing of Chinese applications had been slowed, which could have the side effect of reducing BC-bound migration.
Eighty per cent of Chinese applicants to the federal scheme say they plan to live in BC, and there were 57,308 Chinese in the backlog of 75,651 as of January last year. BC-bound Chinese are thus estimated to make up 60 per cent of the entire federal queue.
The declines in BC-bound approvals are proportional, as well as numerical; they constituted 49 per cent of all federal approvals in 2012, but averaged 60.1 per cent in the preceding decade.
Lesage also responded to a Post report last week which revealed that Canada's Hong Kong consulate had been swamped with applications from tens of thousands of rich mainlanders seeking investor visas. This triggered the shutdown of the application system worldwide in 2012.
She said mainland applications had been consolidated in Hong Kong in 2012 as a way of "reducing overhead costs, and to streamline programmes and operations". "That is why the bulk of IIP applications from China are at the Hong Kong office," she said.
However, CIC spreadsheets obtained by the Post show Hong Kong as having received the vast bulk of Chinese applications since 2002.