China and the World

Green for go

Chinese migrants start Canada legal challenge

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When Canada dropped its citizenship scheme for foreign investors in February (see WiC226), some applicants were so furious that they sued the Canadian government. The lawsuit challenging Ottowa’s decision reached the federal court last week.

The action is backed by 1,500 people – almost all of them Chinese – who want a proper assessment of their immigration applications or C$5 million ($4.6 million) each in compensation. That would be quite a bill, when you include their dependents too. “Our rough estimate is it would amount to C$16.5 billion for all the litigants that we have now,” said Tim Leahy, the group’s lawyer.

The original scheme was open to foreign nationals with net assets of C$1.6 million and a readiness to invest C$800,000 in five-year, interest-free loans to the Canadian government. But it was closed to new applicants two years ago, when the backlog reached 59,000 people, and then dumped early this year.

Ottawa says that many of its new citizens weren’t actually living or working in Canada. But emigration specialists shot back that they had kept to their side of the bargain. “When these applicants applied for green cards, they were a proper fit with immigration policy,” Guan Guorong, the head of one migration advisory agency told Chinese state television last week. “Now the [Canadian] government says that the successful ones haven’t contributed enough to the economy as a whole – that they haven’t done enough business or paid enough tax or bought enough houses. But this wasn’t written into the immigration laws. That’s not reasonable.”

The legal complaint is that the applications weren’t processed in the promised timeframe or treated equally under the law. “It is just so un-Canadian, what they’re doing,” Leahy has claimed. “They’re destroying our credibility.”

The Canadian government argues that it is perfectly entitled to halt the scheme. “Changing the rules midstream hardly seems fair,” the Toronto Sun acknowledged. “But holding this country’s taxpayers up for ransom and asking that we compensate millionaires, well that’s pretty un-Canadian as well.”

Many countries offer residency schemes for investors (see WiC186), with Chinese nationals often key targets. But there’s been less discussion of migration in the opposite direction. That might be because it’s harder for foreign nationals to get permanent residence in China than elsewhere, the People’s Daily suggests. Just 4,900 permanent residency cards have been granted in the past decade. By comparison, the United States grants citizenship to about 680,000 foreign nationals every year, according to official data.

Importantly, the details on how many people actually apply for Chinese green cards aren’t clear, although it’s fair to assume it will be a tiny fraction of the American experience, where the backlog alone is more than 4 million strong.

But for those that do apply, the rules can be restrictive. For instance, the candidates in the investment category have to put up more capital than equivalent schemes in other countries, the People’s Daily says, although thresholds are a little less for investments in particular industries or parts of the country. Applicants also have to show three years of investment experience in China, with track records overseas not even taken into account.

The situation is similar for skilled workers. Four years of previous work in China is mandatory.

Under these terms neither Mark Zuckerberg nor Bill Gates would make the grade, NetEase notes.

Instead more than half the residency permits have been granted through a family reunion category that allows minors to join their parents or adults to take care of their elderly relatives. A second grouping – those who have made ‘outstanding contributions’ or who are regarded as having special talents – makes up a further third of the total. Permanent residency cards for skilled workers and investors are a far smaller proportion of the total.

That must be a concern, says the Beijing News, as foreign-born citizens should be regarded as a source of economic growth, and not just as a burden on resources.

Other countries are fighting hard for talent and capital, China Youth Daily agrees. The domestic economy will lose out if the authorities don’t show a little more flexibility in their approach.

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