By Mansoor Tanweer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced Thursday that the special immigration pathway for recent graduates and skilled workers from Hong Kong will officially open on Feb. 8, 2021—from that date, Hong Kong residents will be able to apply for new open work permits.
The pathway framework was released last November, but even before that Canada had begun accepting pro-democracy activists as refugees.
“The launch of the Hong Kong immigration pathway is a historic initiative that will attract young, talented and experienced graduates who will help to drive Canada’s economy forward,” said Immigration Marco Mendicino in a press release.
The door the IRCC has opened would make it easier for those trying to escape Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s freedoms to seek permanent residency in Canada. Fifty pro-democracy activists and lawmakers were rounded up just after the new year, garnering strong condemnation from Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne.
“The mass arrest of activists and politicians in Hong Kong is a grave repression of political pluralism,” Champagne said on his social media back then. He added that the arrests show “a total disregard for Hong Kong’s basic law.”
China’s controversial extradition law, which human rights activists have said gives Beijing free-reign to arbitrarily detain people, has been the source of much tension between Beijing and Hong Kong. Thousands have fled to the U.K. and other countries. Canada granted asylum to 14 pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong just last month.
Immigration pathways for Hong Kongers
Immigration hopefuls from Hong Kong will need to show that they have graduated from a Canadian post-secondary institution or a foreign equivalent within the last five years. The post-secondary program they have received their credentials from must be at least a two-year course. People from Hong Kong will be able to apply for an up to three-year open work permit, which allows holders to enter Canada without an invitation from an employer and to stay in the country while they look for work.
Two other pathways to permanent residency will become available later this year, the IRCC also said. One pathway will apply to Hong Kongers with at least one year of work experience in Canada and who meet language criteria. The other will be for Hong Kong residents who have graduated from a post-secondary institution in Canada, who can then apply directly for permanent residence. “More information on the criteria for these pathways will be available once they are implemented,” the IRCC told NCM.
The measures apply to anyone holding a Hong Kong special administrative region (SAR) or British National Overseas (BNO) passport. Spouses, common-law partners, and dependent children can also submit an application for a study or work permit. The government has also put in an exemption to the pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) for Hong Kongers. The PRRA is an assessment that determines if a refugee will be in danger if sent back to their home country. People can become ineligible for this assessment if they are subject to extradition or already made claims in other countries. The PRRA has been amended to give ineligible Hong Kong residents a second chance.
“With flexible open work permits and a fast-track to permanent residency, skilled Hong Kong residents will have a unique opportunity to develop their careers and help accelerate Canada’s economic recovery,” Mendicino stated.
Alongside economic reasons, the federal government has also stressed the historical ties with Hong Kong as a motivation behind the policy.
“The ties that bind Canada and Hong Kong run deep,” a spokesperson for the IRCC commented for NCM. “The first Hong Kongers arrived here over 150 years ago, contributing immensely to Canada’s economic, social and political life.”
The announcement is the latest in a line of public statements in support of Hong Kongers amid China’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists.