Canada's government has been accused of pandering to anti-Chinese sentiment by axing its investor migration scheme, which has brought tens of thousands of rich mainland Chinese to the country.
Members of the Chinese business community in Vancouver, where most wealthy mainland Chinese settle, have criticised last week's announcement in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget which resulted in 65,000 would-be immigrants having their visa applications scrapped.
The Conservative government justified terminating the 28-year-old Immigrant Investor Programme by saying arrivals under the scheme paid far less tax than other economic migrants, and that the programme was riddled with fraud.
Gabriel Yiu, an activist co-ordinating opposition to the move, on Wednesday accused the government of "smearing" investor migrants as it tried to capitalise on a growing backlash against the influx of Chinese millionaires.
About 37,000 investor migrants have settled in Vancouver since 2005, 66 per cent of them mainland Chinese.
"Before they cancelled the scheme, I have already talked to people and there is a backlash against wealthy mainland [Chinese] immigrants, not just in mainstream society but within the Chinese community," he said.
Yiu said that innocent would-be immigrants dumped from the queue were paying the price for this pandering, adding that it was "unfair".
Under the axed scheme, applicants worth a minimum of C$1.6 million (HK$11.2 million) would loan the government C$800,000 for five years in return for residency visas for them and their family, with the option of applying for Canadian citizenship coming later.
The scheme brought about 185,000 migrants to Canada, including about 30,000 rich Hongkongers, mainly in the run-up to the 1997 handover.
The scheme had recently been dominated by mainland Chinese, who made up 86 per cent of all applicants in 2011. About 67,000 mainland Chinese have migrated to Canada under the Immigrant Investor Programme, with an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 having had their applications now dumped.
Hong Kong-born Yiu said he understood why some resented the rich newcomers.
"Sometimes I feel that way too. We don't like to see people driving huge, expensive cars or buying big houses, but this is a free country," said Yiu, who has previously stood as a candidate for the opposition New Democratic Party.
"They are able to do what they do because the government allows them to do it. But the government should not punish those who follow the rules and our system."
Yiu added that he would not have opposed the government's tightening of admission criteria.
Yiu organised a press conference in Vancouver's Chinatown on Tuesday in which immigrants who used the scheme said the city's Chinese community had been insulted by the lack of consultation over the decision.
Chinese migrant Charlie Zhang said at least one business deal he was planning had fallen through because of the government's decision. He told the press conference at a Chinese restaurant that his would-be business partner in China had last week decided not to come to Canada.
"When we close our business, our factory, in China and come here we have already lost a lot," Zhang was quoted as saying by the Globe and Mail newspaper. "This is bad for investment."
In a statement issued after Flaherty's announcement last Tuesday, the Canadian government said over a 20-year career, an immigrant investor pays about C$200,000 less in income taxes than a "federal skilled worker" and almost C$100,000 less in taxes than one "live-in caregiver".
"The current [Immigrant Investor Programme] provides limited economic benefit to Canada. Research shows that immigrant investors pay less in taxes than other economic immigrants, are less likely to stay in Canada over the medium to long term and often lack the skills, including official language proficiency, to integrate as well as other immigrants from the same countries," the statement said.
Yiu said the government's assessment of investor immigrants' tax contributions was "nonsense", adding that it was based on a "discredited" study by a think tank, the Fraser Institute.
Yiu said that instead of axing the scheme, the government should have focused on catching tax cheats. "The entire class [has been] labelled 'tax cheater'."
Former immigration minister Jason Kenney said in January last year that the government was not contemplating legislative measures to deal with the backlog.
The decision to scrap the programme came less than a week after the South China Morning Post began publishing an investigation into the scheme.
The reports revealed how the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong had been overwhelmed by applications from tens of thousands of mainland Chinese millionaires, forcing a worldwide halt to applications in 2012.