by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Mississauga, Ontario
Canada will persist with its new Immigrant Investor Venture Capital plan despite the less-than-enthusiastic response to it so far.
“Pilot programs like this always take time to be known in a competitive global environment,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Tuesday in Mississauga, Ont. at a meeting with a select group of media.
Canada has so far received just six applications for the pilot program as of June 8, according to data obtained by Richard Kurland, a Vancouver immigration lawyer through an Access to Information request.
Popularly referred to as the “millionaire visa,” at its launch in January it was expected that at least 50 foreigners would join the plan, under which applicants must be far richer than what was stipulated previously for a similar program.
Would-be immigrants under this class must now invest a minimum of C$2 million in Canada for a 15-year period and must have a net worth of at least C$10 million. Among other new criteria, they must also be able to speak English or French.
Launched in the mid-1980s, the old plan fast-tracked visas for foreigners with a net worth of C$800,000 and C$400,000 to invest. The amounts were later upped to a net worth of C$1.6 million and C$800,000 to invest.
The old plan was very popular, particularly with Chinese investors. As demand surged, the program was frozen in 2012 to clear backlog. It was scrapped last year amid criticism over allowing the global rich to buy their way into Canada.
Minister Alexander ruled out easing the entry norms under the pilot to make it popular like the previous one. “Keeping program standards high will ensure that Canadians continue to benefit from our immigration programs,” he said.
The minister said the pilot was only one among a number of pathways to attract investment into Canada. He pointed out the Start-Up Visa Program that hopes to attract immigrant entrepreneurs who have the potential to build innovative companies that can compete on a global scale and create jobs.
He said the program was the first of its kind in the world and proof that Canada’s immigration programs will remain the most agile and responsive. “We are prepared to adjust.”
Responding to new high in immigration levels
On the controversial aspects of Bill C-24, which came into force last month, Alexander said his government has only built on existing rules. “The new rules are meant to weed out citizens of convenience who view the Canadian passport only as an insurance policy.”
He said Canada has increased its response to refugee resettlement in view of the crisis in Iraq and Syria along with renewing its commitment to reuniting families.
The minister said in the past three years close to 75,000 people have come in on family reunification visas and 50,000 have been issued super visas.
On the issue of reducing the age of dependents to 18, Alexander said it was done to make it consistent with laws of the land, which consider those above that age as independent adults.
“When these young adults apply for residency on their own, their pathway would be faster as the points system gives them a huge advantage,” he explained.
There has also been an increase in the numbers of visitors from countries like Brazil, China and India on account of new 10-year multiple entry visas, he added.
“These visitors are economically significant for the Canadian economy along with international students, whose intake has doubled over the past few years. Last year the number crossed 64,000, up from 29,000.”
The minister said international students are potential immigrants through a new channel.
With 262,000 people entering in 2014 alone, he said the current level of immigration is a new high in Canadian history.
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Canada’s ambitious pilot immigration program for attracting super millionaires has drawn a muted response. In the past six months, since the program started, there were only six applicants, which is nothing compared to the former investor class immigration program, media in Asia reported.
The latter was scrapped in 2014, amid criticism that it allowed wealthy Chinese to buy their way into Canada.
Referring to the poor response to the program named as "Immigrant Investor Venture Capital scheme," an immigration lawyer said “it is poorly designed." Richard Kurland, a Vancouver based immigration lawyer said he received this information when he filed an Access to Information request, seeking the data on the new immigration plan for the rich. The federal government had started accepting applications in January.
In December 2014, Canada announced that it was looking for 50 wealthy foreigners to join the pilot run of the IIIVC to attract applicants far richer than those who have already entered under the previous program. The previous Immigrant Investor Program was scrapped even while a huge backlog of applications were existing at Canada's Hong Kong consulate from mainland Chinese.
Kurland quipped that the revamped program will “wither on the vine and quietly go away” because of the low demand from would-be immigrants. He sees two reasons for it. One is the high price tag and second is the uncertainty about investment, reported the International Business Times.
Though the initial response is looking poor, an official at the Citizenship and Immigration department said, there is no question of the government reverting to the previous investor class visa. “We believe it is important to continue testing demand, because we know that the IIVC pilot program can deliver significant benefit to Canada," the official said.
The ambitious new program envisages would-be immigrants to invest a minimum of C$2 million in Canada for a 15-year period. They must also have a net worth minimum of at least C$10 million. “Few were prepared to throw good money away, and C$2 million is a lot of money to get a visa. There was no monitoring oversight and control after the investment is made … (and so) this is not a wise financial decision to take. I’m not surprised to see just six takers,” Kurland noted.
Not globally competitive
The flaws in the new scheme were picked by another expert. According to Hong Kong immigration lawyer Jean-Francois Harvey, the new program is "ridiculous.” The applicants have to undergo strict audits to confirm the source of their wealth besides vetting the language and education benchmarks. He said the failure to attract applications despite postponing the deadline again and again showed it is not competitive in front of the worldwide competition for investor immigrants from China and across the world.
"The failure to attract [more applications] despite the fact that they postponed the deadline again and again is simply [because] it is not competitive in front of the worldwide competition for investor [immigrants] from China and around the world," said Harvey, founder of the Harvey Law Group, which is based in Montreal, with offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Vietnam.
Harvey said the immigration industry in Asia "did not even try to market the deal" because it compared so unfavourably with schemes offered by other countries, notably those in Europe. For instance, Portugal offers permanent residency under its "Golden Visa" scheme to immigrants who spend 500,000 euros (HK$4.24 million) on Portuguese real estate and retain it for five years.
Harvey said the new Canadian program was a "not-so-subtle way to block the Chinese applicant."
Under the old IIP, investment took the form of an interest-free C$800,000 loan to Canada, which was returned intact to the immigrant after five years. The IIVC scheme's C$2 million investment will be held by Canada for about 15 years and will be fully at risk of loss.
But interest in the new program has been paltry. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), responding to an access-to-information request, the IIVC scheme received just six applications worldwide, as of June 8.
Kurland, according to The South China Morning Post said the IIVC scheme was "a mousetrap that doesn't trap mice." "The design is flawed. It doesn't reflect market realities," said Kurland, who said would-be immigrants were put off by the risky nature of the investment, as well as the requirement for financial audits.
He also said Canada's recent habit of "retroactively changing the rules" for immigration applicants was acting as a major deterrent. When the IIP was shut down last year, the backlog of about 60,000 applicants and family members, including about 45,000 mainland Chinese, was simply dumped.
Published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post
by Deanna Cheng (@writerly_dee) in Vancouver, British Columbia
Twelve tables of mahjong (Chinese tile game) in Vancouver’s Chinatown Memorial Square fill up with fervent game-goers within 15 minutes. Silence quickly turns into chatter mixed with the clickety clack of tiles. A diverse pocket in British Columbia's largest city comes to life.
Last Saturday, a local group called the Youth Collaborative of Chinatown (YCC) hosted a public games night titled, ‘Chinatown Mahjong Social: A Hot and Noisy Night’. The games night was the first to kick off a series of events to regenerate public spaces in Chinatown.
‘Hot and noisy’ is a play on the Cantonese word yitnaau and the Mandarin word renao and loosely translates into a measure of liveliness in an atmosphere.
Mahjong is a game played between four players with a set of 144 tiles inscribed with Chinese characters and symbols. The game is one of skill, strategy and calculation. It also involves a degree of chance – or what some seniors would call luck.
‘Bring Your Own Poh Poh’
‘BYOPP – Bring your own poh poh (grandmother)’ called out the youth group’s Facebook post advertising the June 20 event.
Mark Lee did more than that. Along with his grandmother, he brought his boyfriend, his sister and her husband.
The 24-year-old is half-Chinese and half-British; his connection to Chinatown stems from a deep connection to his grandmother.
“When I was little, she’d pick me up from preschool. When we were sick, she was there to make us feel better … and also, make us drink soups.”
As a kid, Lee would ask her to teach him how to write Chinese and she showed him simple words. When he asked her to teach him Cantonese, she told him to go learn Mandarin. So he did.
The University of British Columbia graduate now has a major in linguistics and a minor in Chinese. He’s also fluent in Mandarin and has a basic understanding of Cantonese.
“The whole reason I’m involved with Chinese was to communicate with Grandma,” Lee says. “It’s been nine years and I still can’t.”
One of his goals is to learn Cantonese. Another one is to be part of the revitalization effort of Chinatown and to prevent gentrification.
“I hear stories about people with family in Chinatown, but [they] never come here,” he says.
Lee wants to do more than organize just social events with the YCC. He wants an intergenerational connection. He admits the language barrier can be an obstacle, but points out that there are others who can translate – and that it’s an opportunity to learn the language. All that’s required, he says, is for people to show up to their events.
“This is ideal … seeing old folks with young people learning how to play mahjong.”
Players of All Ages and Ethnicities
Colourful paper lanterns hang on the trees next to where local artist Yule Ken Lum has set up his cart doubling as a makeshift studio. He invites the public to finish decorating the last tiles of his 300-piece mosaic. It depicts the words ‘CHINATOWN’ in a giant heart stencil.
Lum says he is surprised by the age and diversity of the turnout. “At the Chinese chess table, it was good to see a poh poh sitting by a Caucasian girl, like a team.”
Meanwhile, on a board with neon sticky notes, participants write suggestions for future events. Some ideas include: tai chi, line dancing and outdoor film screenings.
As all the tables of mahjong fill up, passersby appear disappointed so event organizer Kathryn Gwun-Yeen Lennon (pictured above on the right) offers to set them up with Chinese chess and Chinese checkers. They choose to watch instead.
Resisting Chinatown’s ‘Doom and Gloom’
Vancouver’s Chinatown spans about a nine-block radius, not including the residential area. It is part of the downtown eastside, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods and is commonly referred to as ‘Canada’s poorest postal code’.
In recent years, Chinatown has undergone large and rapid development projects, including sky-high condominiums occupied with young urbanites that don’t speak Chinese, construction plans for water main upgrades along Pender Street, located near the centre of Chinatown and the end of the Chinatown Night Market. But there is still more work to be done.
“Our goal is to engage youth to take part and do what they’d like to see instead of listening to the ‘doom and gloom’ about Chinatown in the media,” explains YCC member Doris Chow (pictured above on the left).
Seniors often want to communicate their history with youth, but don't know how to go about it, she adds. “The YCC can work as translators to help shrink the intergenerational gap.”
by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Toronto
Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan has joined issue with the Globe and Mail over its reporting this week suggesting he could be a threat to national security on account of his close ties with China.
In an open letter, the provincial Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade said the articles “are little more than a re-hash of ludicrous allegations published – and debunked – five years ago. Indeed, the Globe & Mail at that time properly called the suggestions 'reckless, foolish and contradictory.'"
The allegations Chan was referring to spring from a CBC interview with former Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) director Richard Fadden aired in 2010. Fadden did not identify anyone in that interview nor did he elaborate on specific concerns. After a backlash from politicians and Chinese-Canadians, Fadden recanted and the controversy subsided.
"There is a persistent theme that there is a perceived risk that I am under undue influence and that I am an unwitting dupe of a foreign government," Chan asserted in his open letter today.
However, following the Globe and Mail articles, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay said there is an “ongoing investigation” involving Chan. “Clearly there are people outside our country, as inside our country, who would seek to exert influence,” MacKay, who would not comment on specifics of the probe, said.
MacKay’s comments highlight the difference between Ottawa and Queen’s Park over the issue. Premier Kathleen Wynne on Tuesday defended her minister, saying any concerns about Chan were “baseless,” and the federal spy agency’s suspicions lacked substance. “He has my trust.”
“All of those have been addressed. There was nothing of substance that has been brought forward to me,” the Premier said during an unrelated factory tour in Cambridge, Ont. “Michael Chan has done his job with respect and with honour. He has worked incredibly hard for the people of Ontario and he continues to do so.”
Chan first became a cabinet minister eight years ago under former premier Dalton McGuinty and has continued to serve under Wynne.
“On our trade mission together last fall to China, Michael was instrumental in attracting to Ontario almost $1 billion in new investment by Chinese companies, creating 1,800 jobs,” said Wynne. “There are some who may believe that there is something sinister about maintaining deep ties with one’s country of origin, or one’s culture. I believe the opposite and so do millions of Canadians who have immigrated to Canada.”
Chan in his letter says the banner headline of the first article on Monday gives the impression that it contains a major revelation, with a headline in bold type in the print edition stating that it has been alleged that “this Minister” could be a “threat” to Canada.
“Although I have been a minister for eight years, it is probably true that most Ontarians do not know me well. For many, their first impressions of me will be from the headlines in the recent Globe articles. It hurts me that this is the case,” Chan wrote, saying the body of the article contains a blend of innuendo and half-suggestions although “nothing I have done in any way supports any suggestion that I am a possible threat to Canada or to Ontario.”
A second story that followed on Wednesday details his emigration to Canada and his rise to success in business and politics. Chan, in his open letter, said maintaining deep, meaningful connections with one’s culture, with one’s country of origin, is something millions of Canadians cherish. “I came to this country as a young man. Canada welcomed me. While I am proud of my Chinese heritage, I am a Canadian first and foremost. I owe all the success I have had to this country and, most particularly, to the province of Ontario.”
Chan, a prominent Liberal fundraiser in Chinese circles, said he would like to think that in some small way he has served as an example to all Canadians who may wish to take part in public affairs. He concluded his letter by saying he will continue to encourage newer Canadians to take an active role in public life.
“They should not be discouraged by the fear of allegations that the everyday actions of newer Canadians need to be minutely examined to determine if they somehow have lesser loyalties to this country.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit