Ricochets in China as Canada cancels visa programme

A general view of the Vancouver skyline across English Bay Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The western city of Vancouver was one of the main Canadian destinations for visa applicants from China

Larry Wang used to be proud of Canada, his adopted country.

But that patriotism was shaken when the Canadian government cancelled a path to immigration, the so-called "immigrant investor" programme, earlier this year.

As the owner of a successful immigration consultancy in Beijing, Mr Wang had often recommended the programme to his clients.

"I'm very surprised this happened," he explained. "A country is free to make decisions, but not when it affects its image of being fair and democratic."

The cancelled Investor Class programme had offered permanent residence visas to individuals with a net worth of more than C$1.6m ($1.4m; £870,000), who could provide the Canadian government with C$800,000 in interest-free loans over five years.

The programme was popular among wealthy people who wanted a fast path to a Canadian passport. Much too popular, it turns out.

Canadian immigration offices were flooded with applications, the vast majority from mainland Chinese citizens.

Image caption Many Chinese like the fact Canada is sparsely populated

For his clients, "Canada has always been a top choice," Mr Wang explains.

"First, it's an English-speaking country and most immigrate to help their children's education. And also, Canada is a vast country with a small population. Most Chinese want to go to a less populated place."

Undervalued?

Since 1986, thousands have used the immigrant investor scheme as a gateway into Canada, a country favoured for its universal healthcare and reputable schools.

That is, until the federal government in Ottawa abruptly announced the programme's cancellation, instantly terminating 65,000 visa applications.

The programme "significantly undervalued" the path to permanent residence in Canada, the Canadian Ministry of Finance explained in its annual budget preview.

However, the programme will not be officially cancelled until the budget is expected to pass on 26 June.

More than 1,300 rich Chinese applicants are now suing the Canadian government in a federal court.

However, the case has stalled until after the budget's expected passage and the programme's official cancellation.

Many in Canada are applauding the end of Investor Class immigrants.

Many accuse rich Chinese immigrants of driving up property prices in Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver, while failing to fulfil basic residency requirements, or failing to appreciate Canada's egalitarian ideals.

"Money is power in China. You can do anything you want with money [there]. Not so much here," wrote one reader in a forum on Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.

"As a Chinese, I once overheard a young Chinese mother speaking to her friend in Mandarin, thinking it strange that wealthy people could be friends with non-wealthy people here. Is this the kind of culture we want to import?

"Sorry, as a privileged rich Chinese, I hate my background and believe that this aspect of Chinese culture is anti-Canadian. Good on the [Conservative Party] for cancelling this programme."

Little sympathy

The cancellation is a popular topic of discussion on Chinese internet forums too.

The vast majority of comments appear to have little sympathy for those affected.

"Sue when you cannot get another country's citizenship. What kind of logic is that?" one person wrote.

But Larry Wang insists his clients have been wronged.

The children of many families have not prepared to sit the Chinese college entrance examinations because they believed they were going to migrate to Canada.

"Many parents decided years ago to send their children overseas, but when their children grow up and all of a sudden the parents cannot immigrate, it's awful," he says.

"Also, they needed to set aside C$400,000 to C$800,000 for the investment. Many families' business plans have been completely messed up."

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