CIMM - Canada-China Issues - June 2, 2021
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- People-to-people ties between Canada and China remain strong, and Canadians of Chinese origin are an important part of Canada’s multicultural fabric.
- China is a key source for tourism, international students and economic migration to Canada. Chinese immigrants are important for supporting Canada’s economic growth and addressing demographic challenges.
- As part of the whole-of-government response to the situation in Hong Kong, the measures I announced on November 12, 2020, are designed to encourage Hong Kong youth to choose Canada as a place to study, work, and settle, given the skills and education many of them would bring to support our economy.
- A new initiative to facilitate access to open work permits of up to three years was launched on February 8, 2021.
- These measures complement the actions being taken by Canada’s international partners.
- In 2019, China was the second top source country for new permanent residents (30,000), the third largest source of tourism (712,000), and Canada’s second largest international student source country (85,000).
- Despite recent decreases in applications due to COVID-19 and the coming into force of biometrics, China remains the second largest source of new permanent residents and international students.
- IRCC offices in the China Network (Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai) and Hong Kong are fully operational. Since returning to full capacity in summer 2020, the China offices have played an integral role in supporting priority business lines. All 11 Visa Application Centers (VACs) in the China network are currently open and offering limited services.
- IRCC has committed to processing all study permit applications received by May 15 as quickly as possible, with best efforts being made to ensure students can arrive in time for classes in September.
Measures for Hong Kong residents
- In addition to the existing work and study options for Hong Kong youth, a new temporary residence initiative specific to this cohort facilitates access to open work permits of up to three years to individuals with recent post-secondary education experience in Canada or abroad. This temporary public policy took effect on February 8, 2021.
- Between the program opening on February 8 and April 30, 2021, a total of 2,535 open work permit applications were received by the Department. Approval rates are currently at 94%. Specifically, out of the 724 applications processed, 678 were approved.
- Equally, in addition to the existing permanent resident streams that are available to Hong Kong residents, including Express Entry and family sponsorship, the Department is also in the process of launching two new pathways to permanent residence for those already in Canada:
- The first is for former Hong Kong residents who have gained a minimum of one year of authorized work experience in Canada and meet other criteria such as minimum language and education levels.
- The second pathway allows those who have graduated from a post-secondary institution in Canada to apply directly for permanent residence.
- Taken together, these measures, in addition to further promoting our existing migration and protection programs, represent a significant expansion of the opportunities for Hong Kong residents to come to Canada.
[If questioned about the participation of Quebec]
- Quebec has decided not to develop a specific path for permanent residency for Hong Kong residents interested in settling in Queébec. Eligible Hong Kong residents can apply through the existing “Programme de l’expérience québécoise" run by the Quebec government through le “Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration”.
[If pressed about the potential for exit bans from Hong Kong]
- The Government of Canada is very concerned by the broad powers Hong Kong’s new immigration law seems to confer.
- The right to leave Hong Kong is guaranteed under the Basic Law and should be upheld.
- Canada is monitoring the situation and will continue to work with its partners to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms are respected.
Support for Canadian nationals and permanent residents in Hong Kong
- The Consulate General of Canada in Hong Kong is prepared to support Canadian nationals, permanent residents and their family members by processing requests for passports, travel documents, and other documents as needed.
- Over the last year, the Consulate General has been undertaking contingency planning to ensure that emergency passport services can be provided if needed. Also, throughout the last year, Canada’s mission completed a robust outreach campaign encouraging Canadian nationals working, studying and living in Hong Kong to ensure that they have valid Canadian travel documents.
[If pressed about recent developments regarding dual nationals]
- Dual nationality is not legally recognized in Hong Kong and local authorities may refuse to grant consular access to detained dual nationals who declare themselves as Chinese nationals.
- Canadians who wish to receive consular services should present themselves as Canadian to authorities at all times.
- My department is also currently expediting applications for proof of citizenship and Canadian passports received from Hong Kong in order to facilitate potential travel to Canada.
Protection measures for Hong Kong residents
- Individuals who have fled their home country and have no other durable solution may be referred to Canada for resettlement by the United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency or Canadian private sponsors.
- The 1951 Refugee Convention and Canadian regulations require that foreign nationals be outside their home country in order to be eligible for resettlement. Canada does not, therefore, accept resettlement applications at the mission in the country of alleged persecution.
- Like all foreign nationals who are in Canada, Hong Kong residents have access to the asylum system. Individuals who are eligible to make a claim are referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). This is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal that decides whether or not an individual is in need of protection, based on the merits of their case.
- The IRB has identified claims from Hong Kong for triage as part of its Task Force on Less Complex Claims. This means that the IRB is examining these claims, based on country conditions, to see if they can be resolved without a hearing or through a shorter hearing, if there are only one or two key determinative issues to be resolved. No claim is denied without a hearing. If there are more complicated questions of credibility or identity, then such cases will not be addressed as a less complex claim.
- In most cases, an individual can appeal a negative decision on their asylum claim to the Refugee Appeal Division within the IRB. They may also be able to ask the Federal Court to review a negative decision.
- Should these recourse options be exhausted, individuals from Hong Kong are eligible to apply for a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA).
- In most cases, foreign nationals have to wait 12 months before they can apply for a PRRA after they get a negative decision on their asylum claim. In November, I announced an exemption to this 12-month bar on a PRRA for Hong Kong residents. Hong Kong residents who were previously ineligible for a PRRA may now be eligible.
Human rights defenders at risk
- Canada is concerned by the risks that human rights defenders face all around the world. Human rights defenders at risk may already be eligible under Canada’s resettlement program if they are outside their home country and referred to us by the UN Refugee Agency.
- The Government of Canada has also committed to introducing a dedicated refugee stream for human rights defenders at risk, in addition to our existing refugee resettlement program.
- 250 government-assisted refugee spaces have been added to the Immigration Levels Plan from 2021 to 2023 for human rights defenders who are in need of protection. The new stream is on track to be implemented soon.
[If pressed on potential measures for Uyghurs]
- At this time, Canada is not considering any special measures for Uyghurs. The Government of Canada continues to monitor the plight of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang .
- Individuals who are at risk of persecution and have fled to another country may be eligible under Canada’s existing resettlement programs, including the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program and the Government-Assisted Refugees Program.
- Publicly and privately, in multilateral settings as well as in bilateral dialogues, Canada has consistently called on the Chinese government to address and end the repression in Xinjiang.
- Canada, along with several other countries, has called on the Chinese government to allow the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Procedures immediate, unfettered, and meaningful access to Xinjiang.
Security screening and criminal inadmissibility
- All visitors (including temporary foreign workers and international students), permanent residents and refugees are carefully screened before coming into Canada. This screening ensures that these persons do not pose a threat to the safety, security, or health of Canadians.
- IRCC’s highly trained migration officers conduct screening of all permanent and temporary resident applications against departmental databases and risk indices before issuing immigration documents. The Department works closely with our Public Safety partners to carry out the screening process.
- Should issues arise while foreign nationals are in Canada, investigation of criminal offences conducted on Canadian soil by foreign nationals is a matter for law enforcement. However, if a foreign national is charged, arrested or convicted of serious offences in Canada, or is found to have engaged in acts of espionage against Canada or its interests, they may be found to be inadmissible to Canada. They may face legal punishment or jail time in Canada; have their visa canceled; or be issued a deportation order or removed from Canada.
- The Minister of Public Safety has responsibility over the provisions for inadmissibility on national security grounds, including espionage, and for immigration enforcement, including removing foreign nationals. Further questions on these matters should be referred to the Minister of Public Safety or to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials.
[If pressed on assessment of politically-motivated charges – in particular linked to Hong Kong]
- Foreign nationals who are charged or convicted of an offence outside Canada are not automatically barred from entering or remaining in Canada. Inadmissibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Foreign convictions are examined to see whether the act committed would have been an offence under Canadian laws if they had occurred in Canada. For example, peaceful protesting does not constitute a crime in Canada.
- A foreign national who was charged or convicted under the new National Security Law in Hong Kong would be examined for possible inadmissibility on both criminality grounds as well as security grounds. However, no one will be disqualified from coming to Canada by virtue alone of having been charged under the National Security Law, although it would be taken into consideration.
Supporting facts and figures
Application volumes for People’s Republic of China (PRC) passport holders.
- In 2019, the Department processed over 475,000 Temporary Resident Visas for PRC passport holders, down from 672,000 in 2018 and 619,000 in 2017. In 2020, this figure was 75,789.
- In 2019, 32,060 applications from PRC passport holders were processed for Canadian permanent residence. In 2020, this figure was 21,757.
- In 2019, the Department processed 34,717 study permit applications from PRC passport holders. In 2020, this figure decreased to 12,443.
- 2020 saw 705 people with PRC passports claim asylum in Canada, compared to 2,045 in 2019 and 1,840 in 2018. During January-March 2021, 135 asylum claims were received.
- Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and British National (Overseas) passport holders are visa exempt for travel to Canada, however, they do require an electronic travel authorization.
- From Canada’s perspective, British National (Overseas) and Hong Kong SAR passports continue to be recognized travel documents for the purpose of entering Canada.
- There are an estimated 300,000 Canadian nationals in Hong Kong and an unknown number of permanent residents.
- In 2019, the Department processed over 70,000 electronic travel authorization (eTA) applications for Hong Kong SAR or British National (Overseas) passport holders. In 2020, this figure was 12,693. Between January and April 2021, 639 eTA applications were processed for this population.
- In 2019, 1,798 Hong Kong SAR or British National (Overseas) passport holders’ applications were processed for Canadian permanent residence. In 2020, this figure was 1,408. Between January and April 2021, 717 applications were received.
- 2,867 study permit applications were received from Hong Kong in 2020, over three times what could be expected based on regional trends. There were 660 study permit applications received from Hong Kong SAR and British National (Overseas) passport holders between January 1 and April 30, 2021.
- 2020 saw 37 people with Hong Kong SAR or British National (Overseas) passports claim asylum in Canada, compared to 30 in 2019 and 10 in 2018; this represents a 23% increase in asylum applications year-over-year. Between January to April 2021, 10 asylum claims by Hong Kong residents in Canada were received.
Canada-China Bilateral Relations
- China is Canada’s third largest trade partner (at 4.9% of exports), and offers significant economic opportunities. It is also an essential partner in addressing issues of global concern where interests align, such as climate change mitigation and the fight against COVID-19.
- Current bilateral tensions can be traced to Canada’s arrest in December 2018 of Huawei CFO, Ms. Meng Wanzhou, and the subsequent arrests of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in China.
Immigration from China
- China is a key source country for both permanent and temporary migration. Approximately 1.8 million Canadians are of Chinese descent, accounting for approximately 5.1% of Canada’s total population. China is the second top source country for new permanent residents, the third largest source of tourism, and Canada’s second largest international student source country.
- Over the last decade, there had been a 15% annual growth of temporary resident applications from China. However, in 2019 there was a 42% decline in applications, in part due to the economic downturn in China, as well as the coming into force of biometrics. In 2020, visa applications across all categories dropped due to the impact of COVID-19 although the drop in the number of study permit applications from Chinese nationals was less significant.
National Security Law for Hong Kong and Canada’s immigration-related response
- 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”. The law criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces. The law also grants jurisdiction over some cases to mainland authorities, meaning some cases may be tried and served in the mainland.
- Since it was passed, several waves of arrests have taken place. Notably, on
January 5, 2021, 53 former lawmakers, district councilors and democracy activists were arrested under the national security law on charges of subversion in relation to organizing and/or participating in the pan-democrat primaries ahead of the postponed September 2020 Legislative Council election.
- On November 12, 2020, Minister Mendicino announced new immigration measures to support Hong Kong residents and Canadians in Hong Kong, including the open work permit and two new pathways to permanent residence.
- The open work permit was launched on February 4, 2021, with applications being accepted as of February 8, 2021. This open work permit is available to those who have completed a degree from a designated Canadian post-secondary institution in the last five (5) years, or the equivalent credential from a learning institution abroad. Those who have completed a diploma from a designated learning institution for a program of study of at least two (2) years in length, or the equivalent credential from abroad, along with an equivalency assessment, are also eligible.
- The new permanent residence pathways are anticipated June 2021.
Hong Kong immigration bill and exit controls
- On March 11, 2021, the National People’s Congress of China voted almost unanimously in favour of the ‘Decision on improving the electoral system in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’. The legislation will allow the ruling Communist Party to appoint more of Hong Kong's lawmakers, reducing the share elected by the public.
- On April 28, Hong Kong’s “Immigration (Amendment) Bill 2020” passed the Legislative Council. The Bill provides the Hong Kong government with the power to bar people from boarding planes to and from the city without a court order, and with no recourse for appeal. The Hong Kong government has said that the new law will only apply to flights heading to Hong Kong and that the provisions were needed to address a backlog of refugee claims and to “screen illegal immigrants before they depart for the city.”
- However, the wording of the Bill does not limit the power to arriving flights, and commentators have raised concerns that this law could be used to impose an “exit ban” against pro-democracy activists or other individuals who challenge authorities in Hong Kong or mainland China. Critics of the immigration Bill also say it will make it easier to detain and deport refugee claimants.
- Further legislation will be adopted outlining details of the new bill, which will take effect on August 1.
Canadians and Canadian permanent residents residing in Hong Kong
- Global Affairs Canada (GAC) estimates that there are nearly 300,000 Canadian citizens residing in Hong Kong. The number of Canadian permanent residents is unknown, but could be quite high.
- Under the Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China, dual nationality is not legally recognized in Hong Kong and local authorities may refuse to grant consular access to detained dual nationals who declare themselves as Chinese nationals. GAC received a first indication of a Canada dual-national prisoner in Hong Kong being required to make such a declaration on January 18, 2021. We are aware of other similar incidents involving dual nationals of other countries. Canada continues to work with our likeminded partners to ensure the rights and safety of dual nationals in Hong Kong are protected.
- IRCC has not experienced a surge in requests from citizens applying for new passports or requests for travel documents from permanent residents in Hong Kong. If needed, GAC and IRCC are well placed to manage any increase in applications.
Uyghurs and the situation in Xinjiang
- The Government of Canada is alarmed by the reports of mass arbitrary detention, repressive surveillance, torture, mistreatment, forced labour, forced sterilization and mass arbitrary separation of children from their parents affecting Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang, under the pretext of countering extremism.
- On March 23, 2021, Canada, along with the United States, the European Union (EU), and the United Kingdom (UK), announced sanctions against four Chinese government officials and one entity for their role in human rights violations in Xinjiang Province, China. This is the first time Canada and the EU have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
- China publically denounced each set of sanctions and immediately retaliated against the EU and UK with sanctions against their own lists of people and entities. On March 27, in response to Canada’s sanctions, China sanctioned MP Michael Chong, the Conservative Party’s foreign affairs critic, as well as the four other members of the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights, which concluded in October 2020 that China's treatment of its Uyghur population amounts to genocide.
- Uyghurs who have fled to another country and do not have a durable solution may be identified as refugees and referred by UNHCR or by a private sponsor to Canada for resettlement. Persons in need of protection may approach the relevant national body or the local UNHCR office. However, IRCC does not collect data on applicants’ ethnicity or religion and therefore cannot track the number of Uyghurs who may have been resettled through these programs.
- IRCC is aware of Uyghur diaspora in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey. These countries manage their own asylum and registration system and the UNHCR does not have the mandate to identify or refer refugees in these countries for resettlement.
Security screening and criminal inadmissibility
- All persons seeking to enter or remain in Canada must be admissible to Canada and must meet the temporary and/or permanent residency requirements, as set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Regulations.
- An important part of the admissibility assessment is the security screening process, which verifies that the applicant:
- has not committed crimes that would bar their entry to Canada;
- does not pose a risk to Canada’s security;
- is in good healthFootnote * and does not pose a public health risk (a medical examination may be required);
- has not violated human or international rights;
- is not involved in or a member of organized crime;
- has a valid passport or travel document; and
- has not violated the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
- Foreign nationals may be found criminally inadmissible to Canada if:
- they were convicted outside of Canada of an offence that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an indictable offence under an Act of Parliament, or convicted of two offences from separate occurrences, that, if committed in Canada would constitute offences under an Act of Parliament; or
- they commit an act outside Canada that is an offence in the place where it was committed and that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an indictable offence under an Act of Parliament. [Pursuant to section 36 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act].
- Immigration officers determine if there is an equivalent offence in Canada for the act committed. If there is no equivalent offence the individual would not be inadmissible for having committed or being convicted for that offence.
- IRCC relies on key security partners to provide their security screening analysis to inform the IRCC decision maker.
Criminal offenses and inadmissibility inside Canada
- The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or local police forces, are responsible for investigating allegations of criminal activity in Canada.
- The CBSA is responsible for immigration enforcement, including the removal of inadmissible foreign nationals.
- A foreign national loses temporary resident status when an officer or the IRB has determined they failed to comply with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and issues a removal order. Once a removal order comes into force (and is not stayed by a judicial decision), the foreign national must leave Canada immediately.
- For example, if a foreign national is convicted of a certain offences in Canada or is found to have engaged in acts of espionage against Canada or its interests, they would be inadmissible. They may be issued a deportation order, removed from Canada and have their visa or electronic travel authorization cancelled.
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