THE number of Hongkong people applying to emigrate to Canada plunged by more than 30 per cent last year, the Commission for Canada revealed yesterday. But immigration counsellors at the commission warned that because of a large backlog of cases it would take about two years for the application rate to be translated into a smaller number of Hongkong people resettling to Canada. The commission received 5,600 applications last year, down from 8,525 in 1991 and 14,862 in 1990. According to immigration counsellor Mr William Sheppit, Hongkong people had become more confident about the prosperity of southern China and were less interested in emigrating to a country in economic difficulties. But while the number of applications to emigrate plummeted, a record of 33,769 Hongkong migrants landed in Canada last year, a 51 per cent jump over 1991. The flow of Hongkong people into the country will continue this year as the commission expects to issue about 30,000 immigrant visas. A record of 30,572 visas were issued last year. But immigration consultants, while admitting the general trend was for applications to drop, questioned the validity of the Canadian commission figures. Some Hongkong businessmen preferred to send their applications to Canadian consulates in Europe or the United States where the processing time was shorter, they said. One consultant admitted up to 30 per cent of his cases were ''parachuted'' overseas. Immigration consultants also predicted a short-term surge in applications if tension continued to rise between Hongkong and China over political reform. A director of ICS international, Mr Kishore Sakhrani, said his firm had seen a substantial increase in inquiries about emigration to Canada since the end of November last year. ''There's definitely more interest and while the long-term trend is probably down, I'm expecting a short term 'spike' in applications,'' he said. The executive director of PGS International, Mr Drew Vella, also confirmed more people were asking about emigrating to Canada. ''But some calls are from people curious about changes to the Canadian immigration law and wanting to know if it would improve their chances to go to Canada,'' he said. Meanwhile, senior Canadian immigration counsellor Mr Gerry Campbell said despite flagging interest in other immigration categories, applications from businessmen remained fairly stable. While family class applications fell by a third, the business category dropped by only three per cent. ''I don't know why, I can't read their minds but the interest remains high,'' Mr Campbell said. December saw a record 400 applications from business investors wanting to resettle to Canada, he said. While many investors wanted to make the December 31 deadline before the minimum investment amount was raised from C$150,000 (HK$915,000) to C$250,000, applications in January were also high, he added. While expecting a drop in interest after December, the commission had been surprised to receive 250 business applications, a 50 per cent increase over January last year, he said. Despite publicity about unscrupulous investment funds in Canada, investors continued to account for about 80 per cent of the 1,372 business applicants last year.