Chinese Millionaires & Canada’s Investor Immigrant Program

This is a guest column; ‘Mihael Willman’ is the pseudonym for a concerned Canadian – JG.

by Mihael Willman

I thought I had heard everything. But the news on March 4, 2014, that Chinese millionaires at a press conference in Beijing “pleaded” with Canadian officials to allow them to immigrate and their reasons for applying to Canada, takes the cake. This follows Ottawa’s recent decision to cancel the investor class immigration program and with it the backlog of more than 65,000 people, the majority of whom are communist Chinese! Not mentioned in most reports was the fact that the millionaires held their press conference at the posh Beijing Park Hyatt.

According to the Associated Press report, “10 investor applicants delivered their crestfallen message – that their faith in Canada as a ’trustworthy country’, with its attractive rule of law, environment and welfare system, was wavering.” One of the applicants stated that her decision to apply for Canadian immigration was influenced by our education system, environment, social welfare and rule of law. However, she added that: “The most important thing is the government is trusted. This is the most important thing for us to choose Canada.”

While she had apparently considered applying to other countries, among them the U.S., she felt that her best choice would be Canada. Of course she would think that. Unlike Canada, the U.S., Britain and Australia, as well as other countries, required investor class immigrants to invest at least $1 million, which was non-refundable. No other government sold permanent residency status as cheaply as Ottawa! And unlike the U.S. and Australia, immigration to Canada was permanent. There were no follow-up inspections to verify whether the investor actually invested in the Canadian economy beyond the repayable loan. So claiming that of primary importance was the fact that the Canadian government was trusted, was most likely at the bottom of the list influencing her decision, and not the most important reason.

There was one part of the statements made at the Beijing press conference which stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. The fact that among the top three reasons for choosing Canada was our social welfare system! Mind telling me why Canada’s welfare system or social welfare is of such importance to Chinese millionaires? If they are as wealthy as they claim to be, then they should have no interest in our welfare system. Were they planning on dumping their elderly parents and grandparents on our health care system and thus more than recoup their so-called “investment” in Canada? Or, knowing how generous Canadian authorities can be with welfare and rent-geared to income senior housing, were they planning to claim they could no longer financially sponsor them, so they could take advantage of these benefits, as many are already doing?

Decades ago, anyone found to be on welfare within five years of their arrival in Canada could face deportation. Now we have millionaires saying that our social welfare system was one of the primary reasons for applying to Canada! The state of a country’s welfare system would definitely not be at the top of my list, if I were considering where to emigrate. But then I’m not a Chinese millionaire.

This is not the first time that a Chinese immigrant investor claimed that our “good social benefits and democratic values” were what attracted him and his family. In October 2012, after Ottawa froze the program because of the growing backlog, a Toronto immigration lawyer sued on his behalf and that of five other Chinese investors, as well as three investors from Britain, Spain and Germany, who wished to come to Canada under the program. The lawyer wanted a judicial order demanding that the applications be assessed in one year and if this wasn’t done, he wanted $5 million in compensation for the applicants. Can you spell “ambulance-chaser?”

For a citizen of a country that is not exactly known for its respect for the rule of law, Victor Lum, the vice-president of a Beijing immigration agency, who helped organize the complainants, had the audacity to say: “The applicants have submitted their applications in good faith and submitted their fees. There is a reasonable expectation that this is a business transaction, and that they will be processed.” In other words, we paid our admission fee, now cough up the immigration documents. Clearly these Chinese millionaire applicants view the entire transaction as a simple business transaction: Ottawa is selling permanent residency permits and they are buying! And Ottawa has no right to change the rules in the middle of the game, or cancel the program entirely, while there are still applicants waiting to be processed. However, considering that the application fee is a mere $2,000, chump change for millionaires, they really have nothing to complain about, especially as the processing fee will be returned.

Playing the victim card, some even went so far as to claim that cancellation of the program was “neither lawful nor ethical” and a breach of contract law! Some claimed to have applied five years ago, and were now considering whether they could claim compensation from Canada for “their pain” and “for the years they had been waiting.” Clearly they are not far behind the Western world when it comes to litigation. Try claiming compensation for a breach of contract law if you are a foreign company doing business in or with China! Obviously these applicants consider that immigrating to Canada is a right, their right, not a privilege, and the more money they have the smoother should be the process.

Another claim by these applicants was that they had put their lives on hold, while waiting to have their applications approved. Clearly the applicants felt that their acceptance was a foregone conclusion and never once considered that they might not succeed in their quest. One applicant went so far as to quit his job in 2009, expecting his acceptance to come through the mail within months. If they put their lives on hold, while waiting for their Canadian permanent residency documents to arrive, then one must question the soundness of their business acumen. In life, as in everything else, one must always be prepared for every contingency. But I guess none of them were ever Boy Scouts, or they would have learned of their motto “Be Prepared.”

According to Beijing-born Canadian immigration consultant, Larry Wang, though Ottawa has a right to cancel the program, disqualifying those who had already applied was “unjustified” and they want Ottawa to “correct its mistake.” He went on to say that the applicants have a very good life in China, but only want “a better life in Canada.”

Among those criticizing the cancellation of the program and the backlog, are groups with clear benefits from its continuation. In addition to the applicants in the backlog, there have been complaints from the Vancouver Chinese business community and Vancouver real estate agents. A press conference was called, just after the cancellation was announced in February, by a group of Vancouver’s Chinese community leaders and businessmen. The primary complaint of the Chinese business community was that “they were not consulted” and that the decision “tars the entire Chinese business community.” Could you explain to me just how a decision to cancel a program, which had little or no benefit for Canada, can be seen as tarring an entire ethnic business community?

Furthermore, the way the changes were made “was offensive to Chinese-Canadians,” according to the press conference. They went on to say that Ottawa did little to help them set up businesses in Canada, learn languages and integrate into the broader society. Considering that they are “investor immigrants”, these millionaires surely have a few dollars in their pockets to invest in language lessons, in either of Canada’s two official languages, without requiring the government to provide it to them for free. Just like many other immigrants before them. However, according to Vancouver immigration lawyer Ryan Rosenberg, some family members of these investor immigrants see nothing wrong with taking advantage of free government services and “would drive to their free ESL classes in their $80,000 Mercedes.”

I wonder whether the several well-dressed Chinese women, seen arriving in their expensive cars to pick up the free gift cards following Toronto’s ice-storm, (intended for the disadvantaged who lost food during the storm) are also investor class immigrants? One simply responded that her friend told her she could get free gift cards there and clearly considered it her right to collect, whether she needed it or not!

While the effects of cancelling the investor immigrant program have yet to be calculated, ordinary people in the Vancouver area are hoping that the rising cost of homes in the area will finally slow. Real estate agents, and developers, on the other hand, who have made fortunes from selling high-end homes and condos to Chinese investors are joining those critical of Ottawa’s decision. Their gravy train, earned at the expense of ordinary Canadians, has finally come to an end.

Since its inception, by Brian Mulroney in 1986, the immigrant investor program has been viewed as a farce by many Canadians. The primary applicants during the first decade or so of the program were Hong Kong Chinese, who wanted a safe haven before the island reverted to Chinese rule, and people from Taiwan. Many of the Hong Kong Chinese brought their families over, bought expensive houses and then simply returned to Hong Kong to conduct their business. When the much-feared economic repercussions of reverting to Chinese rule did not materialize, many of these investors returned permanently to Hong Kong, with their precious Canadian passports in their possession. Very little has changed over the years, except for the fact that the majority of investor immigrant applicants are now from mainland, communist China.

The most commonly held opinion was that many of these investor immigrants only bought houses (which pushed up local real estate costs) and expensive cars and brought over their families, while returning to Hong Kong or China to do business. In other words, with the exception of these purchases, no real investment in Canada, or personal commitment to the country, was ever made.

This Canadian, for one, has no sympathy for the applicants. Just how many of them are only interested in Canada because they need a bolthole should the going get rough and they are possibly made to account for the way in which they acquired their enormous assets? Cancellation of this poorly thought out and implemented program was decades overdue. Let’s hope Ottawa does not allow itself to be influenced by these tearful millionaires into reconsidering its decision.