China’s imposition and implementation of the new National Security Law on Hong Kong is eroding the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents at an unprecedented pace.
Authorities have conducted several waves of arrests in recent months as part of a crackdown on opposition activists, human rights defenders and the media.
While departures from Hong Kong remain low at this time, there is the potential for an increase based on the evolving situation, and the Department is monitoring the situation closely.
Canada regrets that the imposition of the National Security Law undermines the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s foundation of democratic principles, rule of law and human rights, which were guaranteed under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, China’s treaty obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and Hong Kong’s commitments under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.
Canada stands up for human rights and the rule of law, and continues to support the freedom of speech and assembly. Canada’s strong interests in the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong prompted the Government to closely monitor the situation, express our deep concern, and take necessary actions.
In response to the implementation of the National Security Law, Canada has taken a number of actions, including suspending our extradition treaty with Hong Kong, limiting the export of sensitive goods, and updating travel advice for Hong Kong to warn Canadians of the new risk of arbitrary detention and possible removal to mainland China.
Canada has also consistently raised concerns directly, in private and public meetings, with representatives of the Hong Kong Government and with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, Hong Kong and Ottawa. Canada has also issued a series of statements with likeminded countries.
Current situation and people flows
While we have seen increases in applications for some of Canada’s immigration programs, we are not seeing large numbers of people from Hong Kong planning to come to Canada at this time.
So far in 2020, applications for study permits have nearly doubled and applications for work permits have nearly tripled compared to 2019, though these increases are from relatively low baseline levels. Applications for other lines of business remain steady or have decreased. Actual arrivals in Canada for temporary and permanent migration from Hong Kong are down significantly due to COVID-19.
Ultimately, it would be very difficult to predict accurately how many Hong Kongers will either immigrate to Canada or other countries; utilize existing additional citizenships or passports to leave Hong Kong; or simply opt to stay.
Increasing push and pull factors to leave Hong Kong, in particular for young people, might be tempered by other factors including the continued financial advantages of living and working in Hong Kong. It is also possible that pandemic concerns will impact decisions to travel in the immediate to near future.
IRCC situation on the ground
The Consulate General of Canada in Hong Kong has been fully operational amid the global pandemic and civil unrest. There has been no disruption to immigration or consular operations in Hong Kong, which includes passport processing.
Supporting facts and figures
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and British National (Overseas) passport holders are visa exempt for travel to Canada, however, they do require an electronic travel authorization (eTA).
There are an estimated 300,000 Canadian citizens in Hong Kong and an unknown number of permanent residents.
Immigration from Hong Kong to Canada has been increasing gradually over the last few years. However, it has not yet approached one-tenth of the levels seen prior to the handover of the territory from the UK to China (about 24,000 arrivals per year).
In 2019, the Department processed over 77,000 electronic travel authorizations and almost 8,000 study and work permit applications for Hong Kong residents. 1,524 Hong Kong residents were positively accepted for Canadian Permanent Residence in 2019.
In 2020, study permit applications fell sharply (-43% in all) for other regions in greater China (Taiwan, Macau, Inner Mongolia), but nearly doubled (+92%) for Hong Kong. 2,419 applications have been received this year, over 3 times what could be expected based on the regional trend.
Canada received 138 work permit applications in 2020 as of August 31, compared to 56 total applications in 2019 and 17 total applications in 2018.
In Canada, there was a 130% increase in visitor extension applications in May 2020, a 354% increase in June 2020 and a 214% increase in July 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.
From January to August 31, 2020, 29 people with Hong Kong or British National (Overseas) passports claimed asylum in Canada, compared to 29 for all of 2019 and 10 in 2018.
National Security Law and aftermath
On June 30, 2020, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed the controversial “Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative region”, generally referred to as the National Security Law. It was immediately promulgated by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and came into effect one hour before the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China. The law was not made public until implemented and was drafted without inclusive consultation and through a process that circumvented Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. The law criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces. The law also granted jurisdiction over some cases to mainland authorities, meaning some cases may be tried and served in the mainland.
According to reporting, since the law was passed, authorities have conducted several waves of arrests of opposition activists, human rights defenders and the media. For example:
370 people were reportedly arrested when thousands joined protests against the new legislation on July 1, 2020, including 10 people allegedly in breach of the National Security Law; and
on October 1st, Hong Kong police arrested at least 86 people for taking part in protests on China’s National Day holiday.
Police also raided the offices of Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s largest independent mass-circulation newspaper, and arrested its founder Jimmy Lai.
Canada’s response to date
Minister Champagne issued a statement on July 3, 2020, on behalf of Canada, highlighting the implementation of export controls on sensitive military items, the suspension of Canada’s extradition treaty and announcing the revision of travel advice for Canadians.
In his press conference on the same day, Prime Minister Trudeau also stated that Canada would explore potential immigration measures.
Response from international partners
Like its partners in the international community, Canada has a significant interest in Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. The Government is seeking to align with and complement the responses of our likeminded partners.
Shortly following the announcement of the imposition the National Security Law, both the UK and Australia announced immigration measures for Hong Kongers.
In recognition of the history between Hong Kong and the UK, the British government is creating a new Hong Kong British National (Overseas), or BN(O), visa with a pathway to permanent residency, which will come into force in January 2021.
Australia has lengthened stays for Hong Kong students, graduates and workers within their immigration program so that eligible Hong Kongers can stay longer and qualify more easily for permanent residency.
The US has denounced China’s actions, and have announced migration-related responses, including ending Hong Kong’s treatment under the Immigration and Nationality Act as a separate state from China. The current administration has also included a “carve-out” of refugee resettlement spaces specifically allocated for Hong Kong in 2021 target levels.