Douglas Todd: Number of Chinese students in Canada plunges 44 per cent

Latest from Douglas Todd on the decline in international students as a result of COVID-19 travel and related restrictions.

The three charts below highlight the extent of the decline starting in late 2019, along with the impact of the largest 10 source countries (2018 basis) contrasting the April 2020 change with the the first quarter of 2020.

The extent to which COVID-19 will impact the third quarter, when most students arrive, is of course the big question facing universities and colleges and the related economic impact:

The number of people from China obtaining Canadian study permits nosedived 44 per cent in the first four months of this year as COVID-19 restrictions and diplomatic battles took their toll.

Australia is experiencing an even more precipitous slump in what has been its largest foreign-student contingent — as China’s leaders this week warned against studying in Australia, which it said discriminates against Asians.

In addition, Canada has in the past two months come up with several incentives designed to limit the drop in study visas and woo high-fee-paying international students, who numbered 642,000 in Canada at the end of 2019, making up one in five of all those in higher education.

More than 150,000 Mainland Chinese citizens studied and worked in Canada in 2019, the second largest foreign-student group after India. Greater Toronto last year was the temporary home to 53,000 students from China, while Metro Vancouver had 34,000 and Victoria hosted 4,000.

This year, however, a Chinese study visa downturn appears to be coming in response to COVID-19 lockdowns, diplomatic tensions, border restrictions, a switch to online teaching and massive job losses in labour sectors that often get filled by foreign students.

The latest Immigration Department figures show just 12,065 citizens of the People’s Republic of China obtained study visas in Canada in the first four months of 2020. That’s down 44 per cent from the same period last year.

It’s more severe than the 31 per cent overall decline in study visas from all foreign students. Of the four other largest source countries sending students to Canada, the number of Indians has dropped by 29 per cent this year, South Koreans are down 35 per cent, French have declined 29 per cent and Vietnamese dipped 15 per cent.

When it comes to China’s 640,000 foreign students, almost all have chosen to study in five English-language countries, including the U.S., Britain and New Zealand. But Australia and Canada have welcomed by far the highest number per capita.

While specialists say the international-student market will struggle over the next few years because of coronavirus restrictions, students from China, who have arguably flocked the most to foreign institutions, appear now to be among those most reluctant to head abroad.

When the pandemic hit and Australian politicians urged all foreign nationals who couldn’t financially support themselves to go home, the country’s leaders in effect began saying goodbye to many of the nation’s 720,000 international students, including 212,000 from China.

Australia’s plunge is coming at the same time China has singled out the country, telling citizens “by no means travel to Australia,” and citing “racist incidents targeting Asians.” It also brought up health risks from COVID-19, even though Australia has a much lower rate of coronavirus deaths than the U.S. and Canada. Some reports say only a tiny trickle of Chinese students have obtained study visas in Australia this year.

For his part, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday told China, which has also cut its Australia beef imports, that he wouldn’t be bullied by offshore “coercion.”

The reaction from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been almost the opposite, even while China has unfairly placed two Canadians in solitary confinement and drastically cut Canadian canola imports.

In addition to speaking softly about China, Canada’s Liberal government has recently offered unprecedented incentives to international students, which it says bring $21 billion annually into higher education and the economy.

In an effort to head off more drastic drops, Ottawa recently removed the cap on how many hours most foreign students can work while studying.

In addition, the Liberals changed policy so that up to a million foreign students, refugees and guest workers already in Canada could apply for the government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit of $2,000 a month without providing proof of a work permit.

In late May, the Liberals also announced that foreign students will be permitted to complete 50 per cent of their studies outside Canada. Perhaps most importantly, Ottawa also said such students will still be able to get a postgraduate work permit for up to three years.

How far should Ottawa continue to go to lure international-student dollars and workers, including from China? Clearly, a lot of transnational money is at stake.

Last year, students from China made up 40 per cent of the 153,000 foreign students in B.C. The University of B.C. recently enrolled 6,281 students with Chinese citizenship, taking in $184 million a year from their fees. Almost half of Simon Fraser University’s foreign students have been from China, paying $126 million in fees in the 2018-19 school year. They also typically fill low-wage jobs and pay rent.

There is no doubt Canada has built a significant reliance on China and its students. Now, dealing with COVID-19 and country-to-country tensions, that dependence is being put to the test.

Source: Douglas Todd: Number of Chinese students in Canada plunges 44 per cent

Douglas Todd: Canada, Australia take different tacks on immigration amid COVID crisis

We have an understandable tendency to compare Canada with Australia.

Yet the Australian political culture is different in terms of language and tone, with its conservatives being more to the right in general than Canadian conservatives.

Moreover, Australia, unlike Canada, was forced to develop an (imperfect) culture of accommodation, given the large French speaking minority. Both countries, of course, share a common and difficult history with their Indigenous populations.

But under both Liberal and Conservative governments, Canada has generally favoured higher levels of immigration and greater openness to minority accommodation.

So while I expect the economic fallout will force the Liberal government to reduce immigration levels somewhat, I would expect this to be more modest than in Australia. And it is noteworthy that the Conservatives are not (yet) calling for any major pause or reduction. But we shall see how this plays out::

I’m not alone in attending social events in this country where the conversation turns much more easily to American politics than Canadian.

Donald Trump. Nancy Pelosi. Mike Pompeo. Joe Biden. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Anne Coulter. Bernie Sanders. The list of strong personalities goes on. It’s not surprising subdued Canadians become fixated on the take-no-prisoners politics of the U.S.

But it could be more relevant for Canadians to compare and contrast how leaders are responding to COVID-19 and its implications in a more similar English-language country, despite it being geographically farther away than the world’s largest economic power.

Like Canada, Australia is a middle power with a reasonably healthy parliamentary democracy, as well as shared British roots (French in Canada as well) and a significant Indigenous presence. Multiculturalism flourishes in both countries, where more than one in five residents are foreign-born. We have similar populations: Australia contains 25 million people, Canada 35 million.

Canada and Australia — more than the U.S., which takes in one-third the number of immigrants per capita — have relied on large numbers of immigrants as well as foreign students and workers on visas to expand their economies, educational systems and housing markets.

Like Canada, however, Australia’s economy has been severely battered by the lockdown .

Australia lost 594,300 jobs in April, its largest fall on record, and now has an unemployment rate of seven per cent. Canada lost almost two million jobs and has seen unemployment balloon to 13 per cent. The economies and housing markets of both countries are shaking.

Yet Australia’s elected leaders are sharply diverging from those in Canada in how they’re responding to the pandemic at a policy level, especially regarding migration.

With a degree of frankness rarely heard from Ottawa, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he expects immigration to fall by 30 per cent by the end of the summer.

The Australian PM went on to forecast immigration levels would plunge by a breath-taking 85 per cent in the fiscal year ending in the summer of 2021.

Morrison acknowledged the decline will be a shock to his traditionally immigration-friendly country. But he suggested Australians ought to get used to lower levels.

In the last two years Australia accepted 470,000 new immigrants, while Canada welcomed 616,000. The two countries’ multi-ethnic populations have in the past roughly agreed on immigration policy.

A YouGov poll found Canadians and Australians have been more open to high in-migration rates than citizens of most nations. Even though 38 per cent of Canadians and 46 per cent of Australians said last year they want to reduce the number of incoming migrants, roughly a quarter wanted the rate to stay the same and another quarter hoped levels would be hiked.

Yet the two countries are now talking and acting much differently in regards to the future of migration. Unlike Australia’s prime minister, Canada’s Justin Trudeau has not speculated about possible intake levels. His immigration minister, Marco Mendicino, simply said this month that robust in-migration must continue in the aftermath of COVID-19 travel bans.

But questions are arising about whether the higher immigration targets the Liberals released in early March — of 341,000 new permanent residents in 2020, 351,000 in 2021 and 361,000 in 2022 — are sustainable, taking into account sweeping unemployment.

“Given that the economic crisis will linger long after the health crisis has passed, can Canada accommodate an additional one per cent of immigrants and refugees added to our population in the foreseeable future,” asked Conservative immigration critic Peter Kent. Mendicino promised only that he would provide an update on migration targets in the fall.

The two countries are also diverging on non-permanent residents. Australia’s acting immigration minister said 300,000 people on study visas and work visas have already departed the country and another one-quarter are expected to go. They are leaving in part because Morrison, who leads the centre-right Liberal-National Coalition government, told non-Australians, including a record 720,000 international students, to return to their home countries if they could not financially support themselves during the coronavirus crisis.

Across party lines Australian politicians are expressing worries about how future immigrants, foreign students and guest workers will compete for jobs with the upwards of a million Australians who have been frozen out of work, at least temporarily, due to COVID-19.

Senator Kristina Keneally, a spokeswoman for the opposition Labor party, recently called for a reduction in migrant numbers after the pandemic, saying the country’s historic reliance on immigration to boost growth has hurt some workers and inflated housing prices.

“When we restart our migration program, do we want migrants to return to Australia in the same numbers and in the same composition as before the crisis? Our answer should be no,” Keneally wrote in a much-discussed May 3 opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald .

“Our economic recovery must help all Australians get back on their feet, and to do that we need a migration program that puts Australian workers first,” said Keneally, adding that Morrison’s government had “cynically” created one of the largest migrant labour forces in the world, of 2.1 million temporary workers.

In contrast to Australia’s politicians, Ottawa is hoping to keep immigration levels high and retain as many international students and guest workers as possible.

To convince tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers to continue assisting Canadian farms and long-term care facilities, the Liberal government recently began making it easier for them to get permanent resident status.

Worried about a drastic drop in the country’s record 645,000 fee-paying international students, Ottawa removed the cap on how many hours most can work each month. It also made it possible for foreign students to keep their study visas even if they are not in the country.

Last week, in addition, the Liberals changed policy so that up to a million foreign students, refugees and guest workers could apply for the government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) of $2,000 a month without providing proof of a work permit .

Despite so many longstanding similarities between the two countries in regards to the complexities of migration policy, the leaders of Australia and Canada are now taking opposite approaches in the devastating wake of COVID-19.

In effect, Canada and Australia have turned themselves into living laboratories, engaging in different social experiments. We will be better able to evaluate their theories once the test results come in.

Source: Douglas Todd: Canada, Australia take different tacks on immigration amid COVID crisis

@DouglasTodd Three reasons why rents suddenly dropped in Metro Vancouver

Very good article by Todd regarding the COVID-19 immigration related impacts on rental rates:

The advertised rent for a two-bedroom apartment has plunged by 15 per cent in the city of Vancouver, one of the biggest drops in Canada, as COVID-19 makes its bewildering way through the economy.

Many of the more than 800,000 tenants across Metro Vancouver were riveted when Rental.ca posted the city’s rent-price declines last week. The average rent demanded for a two-bedroom apartment in the city of Vancouver dropped by almost $450, to $2,478 a month.

But why, exactly, have Vancouver and Toronto and their suburbs been slammed?

“A lack of immigration, a decline in international students, a decline in short-term contract employment, and continued affordability concerns because of job losses are to blame,” said Ben Myers, president of Bullpen Research, an affiliate of Rental.ca, in a commentary.

All of which makes sense. But it needs unpacking.

Vancouver and Toronto are subject to some of the same COVID-19 forces — tremendous job loss and swelling household debt — that weakened countless rental markets in the world because of lockdown.

But Metro Vancouver and Toronto also contain some of the world’s highest proportions of foreign-born residents — immigrants and especially temporary residents, such as international students and guest workers. Most are young. And most rent.

That makes these two large Canadian metropolises more vulnerable to global migration patterns and to Canada’s clampdown on its international border, which has abruptly cut inbound flows of people to a trickle.

That lead Paul Danison, another analyst for Rental.ca, to go so far as to imagine the tenants of Vancouver and Toronto possibly being dug out of the hole they have found themselves trapped in: Rental-vacancy rates of less than one per cent.

“Imagine if you can, Toronto and Vancouver with a healthy three per cent vacancy rate, and rents falling by the end of the year rather than rising. A few months ago, that would have been laughable,” said Danison.

“But because of COVID-19, Canada will have less immigration, fewer international students and, with the border closed, not nearly as many seasonal and part-time workers. All typically are renters.”

Several factors are at play.

Tighter borders means landlords who once offered costly short-term rentals, like those on Airbnb, have been hammered in attractive cities like Vancouver, whose economies rely more than most on travellers.

Short-term rental providers have been moving their often-stylish apartments to the long-term rental market, which has been increasing supply, offering tenants more choices.

Rohana Rezel, a housing advocate and past candidate for Vancouver city council, is part of a group monitoring Craigslist and other real-estate forums. They’ve discovered short-term rentals are “collapsing” and hundreds of units are now switching to long-term rentals.

“People offering their places for rent on Craigslist are now blatantly saying it used to be an Airbnb. They’re boasting it was rated five stars,” says Rezel, who adds that many such landlords started off charging outlandish long-term rents, which they were forced to slash.

As in many cities around the world, many owners in Vancouver and Toronto are also feeling pressure to somehow off-load their homes, either because they have lost wages or are going into deeper debt. But they’re in a bind, because it’s no longer a house-seller’s market.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Moody’s and other analysts are predicting double-digit house price declines over the next year or two. So some would-be sellers are trying to wait out the downturn by renting their places, thus also increasing supply.

Thirdly, and perhaps most distinctly for a desirable cosmopolitan city like Vancouver, there are strong indications many of the region’s young temporary residents (foreign- and Canadian-born) have climbed on planes and headed home, often to live with their parents.

That means a hefty drop in demand for rental suites.

A CMHC analyst, Andrew Scott, has found an astonishing 46 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents between the ages of 18 and 44, the group most likely to rent, have been non-permanent migrants — a ratio almost unheard of in other parts of the world.

Until recently, at least 100,000 international students have been living and working in Metro Vancouver, plus another 50,000 so-called “international mobility” employees and temporary foreign workers.

“Many temporary residents just packed up and left,” says Rezel, a high-tech professional who first came to Canada from Sri Lanka as a graduate student.

Like me, when Rezel visits the city’s restaurants, pubs and cafés, he says he often asks friendly servers and others about themselves. Four times out of five such hospitality staff invariably answer that they are in Canada on study or work visas.

As colleges and universities began in March to offer their courses only on the internet and most service jobs disappeared overnight, a large portion of these intrepid young people were compelled to leave behind the country and their rental apartments. Rezel’s Japan-born wife, who is involved in her expatriate community in Vancouver, said that’s what happened in her circle, too.

Who knows when or if most of these temporary residents will return?

All of which goes to suggest Metro Vancouver’s suddenly lower rental rates are likely to remain so for at least the medium term.

Source: Douglas Todd: Three reasons why rents suddenly dropped in Metro Vancouver

Douglas Todd: COVID-19 lockdown triggers foreign-student flight from Canada

Good article by Todd and likely more realistic than the overly optimistic International students determined to study in Canada despite coronavirus, with some initial data highlighting the difficulties facing the current business models of universities:

Jenny Kwak, an international student from South Korea, remembers in March how four of five young people in her university dorm packed their luggage and just disappeared.

“They went home to China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, the U.S. — you name it,” said Kwak, a 21-year-old arts student interviewed on the large empty campus of the University of B.C., which last year enrolled more than 17,000 international students.

It’s hard to forecast how many international students will return, either to Canada or other nations. But the mass exodus of foreign students is brewing into a crisis for colleges and universities in the West that rely on their high fees to hire faculty and staff and construct new edifices.There were 642,000 foreign students in Canada at the end of 2019, double the number of five years earlier. International students account for 20 per cent of post-secondary enrolment in Canada, where many politicians view them as essential to the country’s economic expansion.

Foreign-students programs around the Western world will take “a massive hit” from the coronavirus, says Oxford University professor Simon Marginson, director of the Centre for Global Higher Education.

Post-secondary schools can expect at least 12 months of “abnormal conditions” from the COVID-19 pandemic, with at least five years before global student mobility recovers, says Marginson, whose centre is a partnership of 14 major universities.

Many smaller private colleges, especially those that rely almost entirely on foreign-student fees, will likely collapse, predict higher education specialists Philip Altbach, of Boston College, and Hans de Wit, from the Netherlands. Large respected universities, many of which continue to draw taxpayers’ dollars, will likely survive.

Even though the state of affairs will be different for each nation, Altbach and de Wit say global competition will become fiercer for what will remain of what was until last year the 5.2 million students studying abroad, the largest cohort coming from China.

There are lessons to be culled from the contrasting ways the leaders of Canada and Australia — which take in the most foreign students per capita, including from China — are responding to the dramatic exit of so many.While Canada’s immigration department and schools are not providing much information on how many foreign students have left or may not come back because of the pandemic, Australia’s politicians are more frank. They say many of the 720,000 foreign students in the country have left, in droves.Australia’s acting immigration minister says 300,000 people on study visas (and temporary work visas) departed since January. And a former senior immigration official in Australia, Abul Rizvi, predicts one-quarter more foreign students and workers will depart by year’s end.

It’s not surprising. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told non-Australians to return to their home countries if they could not financially support themselves during the coronavirus crisis. Like most nations, he did not offer wage subsidies to foreign nationals.Politicians in Australia and elsewhere are worried international students will compete for jobs with the millions of citizens who have been frozen out of work due to COVID-19. And a segment of Australians appreciate the departure of many could lead to reduced house and rental costs.In contrast, Canada is more generous to foreign students.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has quietly confirmed foreign students with a SIN number can apply for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which gives up to $2,000 a month to residents of Canada who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19.The government also removed the 20-hour-per-week limit on how much international students could work during their term. Ottawa will now allow them to work unlimited hours if it is with an essential service. In B.C., foreign students also receive subsidized government medical care.Unfortunately, in Canada it’s almost impossible to obtain solid data on how many students have left Canada or don’t intend to return. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told Postmedia it doesn’t keep “exit” information. And media officials from both UBC and Simon Fraser University said their numbers don’t indicate any change, adding they won’t speculate about the fall.

Canada stopped issuing study visas on March 18, but will let anyone who had a visa before then return. The only data the immigration department offered about how COVID-19 has affected study visa holders comes from before Canada locked down.That data shows, during January and February, when COVID-19 was exploding out of Wuhan in China, the number of students from China applying for Canadian study visas dropped by almost half — to 5,164 from 9,495, compared to the same period a year earlier. Applications from South Korean also fell sharply.The decline in study visa applications is a sign of a more permanent trend for the next five years, according to Marginson. He warned student movement patterns will shift for East Asians, with fewer opting for North America, Western Europe, the U.K. and Australia — and more deciding to stay closer to home and study in Japan, South Korea or China.

How Canada and Australia will handle their foreign-student relationship with East Asian countries, especially China, will be telling. At the end of 2019, Australia had 212,000 students from China and Canada had 142,000.But while Australia is not afraid to talk bluntly to China, including about wanting an international investigation into how COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan, Canada’s Liberal government stays silent about China’s transgressions.Ottawa goes out of its way to encourage international students because its aim, rarely discussed, is to give them preferential treatment as future permanent residents, moving into Canadian jobs and housing.

Since the impact of foreign students on Canada’s cities is profound, one would hope the country’s public officials would be more transparent about a strategy that is now seriously in jeopardy.

Source: Douglas Todd: COVID-19 lockdown triggers foreign-student flight from Canada

Douglas Todd: Time to end ‘honour system’ in Quebec’s immigrant-investor scheme

Good reminder of the scam that is the Quebec immigrant investor program and good for Richard Kurland for obtaining and analyzing the data that highlights just how much it is a scam.

Just as Quebec unduly benefits from the 1991 immigration accord that provides Quebec with greater funding per immigrant than other provinces, one that remains a fixed percentage of total settlement funding, irrespective of Quebec immigration levels, meaning that as Quebec decreases its immigration intake under the Legault government, the imbalance increases.

And good for the Conservatives under Jason Kenney for cancelling the federal program. When I analyzed citizenship data by immigration category, the lowest incomes (LICO prevalence) were reported by business immigrants as shown in the chart below (grouped under “Entrepreneur etc):

It’s time for Ottawa to end the honour system that allows nine of 10 wealthy immigrants to renege on their promise to live in Quebec.

Federal immigration officials have released information showing 91 per cent of the tens of thousands of applicants approved by Quebec’s Immigrant Investor Program in recent years have been exploiting a loophole in the plan, which critics consider a “cash-for-passport” scheme.

The Quebec program’s glaring flaw also illustrates a wider problem for the country and its provinces, says Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.That is, Ottawa does not seem interested in trying to make all would-be immigrants to Canada follow through on residing in their declared “intended province of destination.” There are taxation measures that could be introduced, Kurland said, that could ensure more immigrants follow through on their stated commitments.

Even though Quebec’s immigrant-investor program is set to re-open this summer, after being temporarily suspended to deal with a backlog of more than 5,000 applications, critics don’t want to see it start up again under the same rules.

“There are two reasons Quebec’s program has been a failure, leading to abuse of the system,” says Burnaby immigration lawyer George Lee, whose clientele is predominantly from China.“It’s freezing cold in Quebec in the winter, so (many) people from Asia find the weather intolerable,” said Lee.

“Secondly, language-wise, there’s a problem. Most people in China learn English rather than French. As a result, many of Quebec’s investor immigrants don’t ever even fly into Montreal or Quebec City. They just use the Quebec program as a bridge to get to English-speaking cities in Canada.”

Kurland, who obtained six years of recent data on the more than 25,000 investor immigrants and family members who have never fulfilled their stated promise to reside in Quebec, said a simple new tax measure would likely stop the exploitation.

All Ottawa has to do is delay granting permanent resident status to newcomers to Quebec (or any other province) until they file an income tax return as a resident of their declared province of destination, said Kurland, who has frequently travelled to Ottawa to advise Parliament on immigration policy.For his part, Lee realizes that residents of Canada have mobility rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But, like Kurland, he believes Ottawa could find ways to go further to ensure compliance to regional residency commitments than a misused honour system.

Lee worries Quebec doesn’t want to reform its immigrant-investor program.

“Quebec’s happy with the scheme,” he says, because the province gets substantial amounts of money injected into its coffers without having to provide new arrivals and their families with taxpayer-funded medical care, social services and education.The data obtained by Kurland under an access to information request shows that in 2017 only 342 of the 5,015 people approved under Quebec’s investor category actually had a primary residence in the province.

In 2018, just 518 of the 6,064 people approved were found to be living in Quebec. And up until October of last year, only 528 of the 4,136 approved were residing in the that province.


This chart shows over six years how nine of 10 applicants and their dependents approved as permanent residents under Quebec’s immigrant-investor program did not reside in Quebec. (Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, via Richard Kurland)

The investor scheme has not been the only immigration program that provides unusually large financial benefits to Quebec. Because of a 1991 funding accord, Ottawa also provides Quebec with roughly four times as many taxpayer dollars to settle each of its immigrants as B.C., Ontario and several other provinces receive.

Meanwhile, an internal federal immigration document, also obtained by Kurland, acknowledges growing criticism of “golden-passport” schemes such as the one that remains in Quebec, the only Canadian province ever granted separate immigration powers.

The Immigrant, Refugees and Citizenship Canada report from 2019 reveals that four of five of the foreign investors who give or loan various amounts of money to a Pacific Rim country (or its regional jurisdictions) in return for a visa or passport are from China.

Most such investors simply want “peace of mind, a way out when the home country is experiencing turmoil,” says the IRCC report, which grew out of an international conference in Miami on “citizenship-by-investment programs.”

The immigration report refers to how the federal Conservatives cancelled Canada’s long-running national investor-immigrant program in 2014. The government of the day found few of the wealthy applicants ever invested in businesses in Canada or paid a significant amount of federal income tax.

Source: Douglas Todd: Time to end ‘honour system’ in Quebec’s immigrant-investor scheme

Douglas Todd: COVID-19 and the de-globalization of Canada

Too early to tell to see whether business models will change:

Many young people from China who are in Canada on study visas are returning home because they’re feeling isolated and lonely and yearn to be with their families, says Burnaby immigration lawyer George Lee.

The departure from Canada of people on study, work and travel visas is just one of many signs that globalization, which promotes the free movement of goods and humans, is suffering a setback because of COVID-19, says Lee, who has frequently travelled to China to serve his clients.

Canada began turning around all international visitors to Canada at airports on Wednesday, and will close the U.S. border to non-essential travel on Saturday. Ottawa has also banned almost all people returning to Canada who are not citizens or permanent residents.Even though the Liberal government announced on March 12 it would again hike its quota of immigrants — to 341,000 new permanent residents this year, 351,000 next year and 361,000 in 2022 — the government was forced to announce three days later it was cancelling all citizenship ceremonies, citizenship tests and retests.Globalization has been a big factor shaping both Canada, where 22 per cent of the population, is foreign-born and cosmopolitan Metro Vancouver, where 45 per cent of the population is foreign-born. Since 87 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 cases have occurred as a result of travel outside the country, Vancouver International Airport is now only one of four airports in Canada open to foreign travellers.

The efforts of Canada and other nations to stop the virus are creating barriers to trade and transnational migration.“In the midst of all this, the bizarre thing is that China is inviting its citizens to return home, saying it’s safer than being in Canada or the U.S.,” said Lee, referring to the country where the novel coronavirus began, and which has grown into the world’s second largest superpower in large part because of the movement of technology, capital and people.

While Lee says many people on temporary student, work and visitors’ visas are returning to their homelands, Vancouver immigration lawyer Sam Hyman adds that some others appear to be extending their stays in Canada, with the government allowing them to remain longer than their permits stipulate.Asked how he believes COVID-19 will affect Canada’s future migration policies, Hyman said “the last thing we want now is for anyone to politicize all this.”

But that’s what the supports of globalization, including the author of Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, fear is happening.

“The coronavirus outbreak has been a gift to nativist nationalists and protectionists, and it is likely to have a long-term impact on the free movement of people and goods,” author Philippe Legrain recently wrote in Foreign Policy, in a piece headlined The Coronavirus is Killing Globalization As We Know It.

Even though the disruption caused by drastic border and health-protection measures is expected to be temporary, the British political economist said the public is realizing there are risks to relying on global supply chains and that people are vulnerable to seemingly distant foreign threats. Some business leaders worry about what they’re calling de-globalization.“Many ostensibly liberal governments have slapped restrictions on travel and trade that are more draconian than ever (Donald) Trump dared impose at the height of his conflict with China last year,” said Legrain, who wrote the book, Open World, as a counter-argument to Canadian author Naomi Klein’s No Logo. “It provides fodder for nationalists who favour greater protectionism and immigration controls.”
In addition to tightening the borders to combat COVID-19, this month Ottawa made other moves affecting migration.It’s restricted temporary foreign workers entering the country, barred anyone who tests positive to COVID-19 and suspended the family-reunification program. Most contentiously for refugee advocates, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday suddenly changed tack and stopped accepting asylum seekers as they try to cross into Canada on foot. About 20 to 50 had been arriving each day and there had been confusion about whether they were going into quarantine.
At the same time Ottawa is giving would-be immigrants more time and leeway to obtain permanent resident status and has stopped deporting people.

All in all Hyman believes the government is “doing a good job in extremely trying circumstances” as it attempts to offset its welcoming migration policywith protecting the public’s health. Lee, the immigration lawyer, believes Canada is acting “generously” with migrants, adding no restrictions on permanent residents and relatively few measures hampering the country’s fast-growing cohort of 642,000 foreign students, 141,000 of whom come from China (43,000 are in B.C.)“I think Canada is very gentle in this regard. It’s not acting like China, which is just shutting everything down,” said Lee.

Only the next few weeks and months will reveal how COVID-19 plays out in changing Canada’s approach to the cross-border movement of people and to globalization itself, which up until recently has been the most far-reaching economic phenomenon the world has witnessed.

Source: Douglas Todd: COVID-19 and the de-globalization of Canada

Douglas Todd: SFU prof spotlighted foreign ownership in Vancouver 30 years ago

A reminder of how long the issue has persisted and how the political level missed the impact:

“I’ve always had a problem with the media not following the money.”

That’s from Simon Fraser University professor emeritus Donald Gutstein, who more than 30 years ago shone a spotlight on how foreign capital was flooding into Vancouver’s real estate market.

In the late 1980s, Gutstein began poring through Metro Vancouver’s land title office and discovered a tremendous volume of capital was flowing out of increasingly wealthy Asia into B.C. real estate.

The river of money was partly a consequence of Vancouver’s Expo 86, which featured the pavilions of 54 nations and sparked boasts about the city becoming “world class.” That seemed to inspire a host of politicians to head off on “trade missions” around the world to woo investment, which, alas, mostly went into Canadian real estate.

“The investors were just doing what they were invited to do,” says Gutstein, now 81. He emphasizes that the foreign-trade-mission-crazed politicians of recent decades came from every stripe — federal Conservative and Liberal and provincial Social Credit, NDP and Liberal.

Politicians welcomed foreign capital because it “is an easy way to boost your economic numbers,” Gutstein says. But the trouble is most of the money just pumped up the cost of real estate, especially when much of it at the time was funnelled into existing buildings.

After writing Vancouver Inc. in the 1970s to reveal the power developers have over politicians, Gutstein explained the globalization phenomenon in 1990 in The New Landlords: Asian Investment in Canadian Real Estate. It was preceded by a 1998 feature in Vancouver Magazine headlined ‘Hong Kong Money.’

Both grew out of Gutstein’s exhaustive work revealing how financiers like Stanley Ho, David Lam, Charles Tang, S.H. Sung, Geoffrey Lau and others had been buying up B.C. and Canadian towers and houses.

Gutstein discovered Social Credit cabinet minister Grace McCarthy had sold the former Expo 86 lands, which made up one sixth of downtown Vancouver, to Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing for what was even then an astonishingly cheap sum, $8 per buildable square foot. Gutstein also uncovered 20 major Greater Vancouver hotels had been sold in one year, and 15 involved offshore, mainly Asian money.

A specialist in teaching documentary research methods in SFU’s communications department, Gutstein says he was never accused of being “xenophobic.”

Perhaps it was because “I was just following the money to see what happens.” A few journalists, such as The Vancouver Sun’s Elizabeth Godley and the late CBC Radio talk-show host Peter Gzowski, covered The New Landlords. Godley’s piece explained Gutstein’s conviction it would have been far better if offshore investors had instead supported Canada’s manufacturing industries, which would have provided jobs and social stability.

Even though Gutstein escaped personal attack for his research, he now realizes some journalists in the 1990s who tried to cover how Hong Kong, Singapore, Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian capital was pouring into Canadian real estate were accused of being “racist” by developers and their supporters. It induced reporters and editors to move onto other subjects.

Gutstein himself also shifted onto other social critiques in the mid-1990s, after noticing a lack of mainstream interest in the real-estate fallout from Expo 86. He’s since written books about corporate propaganda, Stephen Harper and how the internet undermines democracy.

He’s never, unlike many “progressive” people today, been particularly focused on identity politics, which can emphasize the interests of ethnic, sexual and gender groups over the common good. “I’ve always been more interested in politics and economics and who benefits from the decisions governments make.”

Gutstein acknowledges some disappointment his findings of three decades ago didn’t resonate more with media outlets and what people today call “influencers,” because he is convinced foreign capital was a key reason Metro Vancouver’s housing prices are now among the most unaffordable in the world.

He credits a former UBC business professor, Michael Goldberg, with explaining how a trans-Pacific family-based culture of wealth turned urban Canada into a global real estate market in the 1980s and beyond. “Whistler was already there, and so were parts of West Vancouver and the west side of Vancouver. Local people were not in that market anymore. It was being dominated by investors from all over the world, who already owned real estate,” he says.

“They would use their holdings to buy more real estate. And that put the price of real estate out of the reach of local people in Vancouver. Nowadays, the price of Vancouver real estate is not determined, by any stretch of the imagination, by people who live and work here. It’s determined by this global market, by people who might have property in France and Hong Kong and London.”

Philosophically, Gutstein worries about how capitalism and democracy can coexist. They won’t, he says, if politicians spend their energy trying to please rich people and big business while overriding the interests of the majority of citizens.

He believes the housing crises in Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria could have been forestalled by politicians if journalists and academics had consistently followed the impact of foreign capital — and not waited until a handful began doing so about six years ago, eventually prompting the B.C. NDP and others to act.

Gutstein has no trouble with B.C.’s speculation and vacancy tax, for instance, since it’s designed in part to restrain so-called “satellite” families who invest in property with wealth earned abroad, where it isn’t subject to Canadian income tax. “The money is not really making a financial contribution to the country, so it makes sense to capture the benefit (the buyers obtain) in a tax,” he says.

Though retired from teaching at SFU, Gutstein is still in the game. His most recent book is titled The Big Stall: How Big Oil and Think Tanks are Blocking Action on Climate Change in Canada.

To Gutstein, the climate-change issue central to The Big Stall may even be bigger than skyrocketing Canadian real-estate prices. But that doesn’t mean taking action on one front cancels out doing so on the other.

Asked three decades later if he might have been a prophet without honour in his own country in regard to The New Landlord’s warnings about the dangers of mass foreign investment in Canadian real estate, Gutstein modestly answers: “Possibly.”

Source: Douglas Todd: SFU prof spotlighted foreign ownership in Vancouver 30 years ago

Douglas Todd: We can stop typecasting Catholics and Sikhs — now the election is over

While Todd’s points, of course, about religious believers not being monolithic, Scheer was likely more hampered by his inability to articulate credibly his beliefs and how they would not impact his decisions should he become PM, not to mention his other credibility issues (insurance agent claims, dual citizenship etc).

Moreover, Canadian public opinion has shifted as Todd notes and leaders need to be attuned to that reality:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regretted in the fall that “divisiveness and disinformation were all too present features of this past election campaign,” in which he acknowledged he had become a polarizing figure.

What the Liberal party leader didn’t quite admit, however, is he played an oversized role in turning the October 2019 election, in which his party was reduced to a minority, into a toxic battle about, of all things, religion and sexual ethics.

Who would have thought it would come to this in multicultural, multi-faith Canada? We like to think it is only other countries, like the rivalrous U.S. or India, that are torn apart by religion-fuelled conflict.

But we had our own culture war in Canada in part because of the way Trudeau, and to some extent NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, hammered Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer and even Green party Leader Elizabeth May, over two wedge issues with ties to religion — abortion and same-sex relationships.

These two ethical concerns were torqued so hard that most of the electorate likely lost track of any real sense of what Canadian Catholics and Sikhs actually believe about abortion and LGBTQ issues. The public might be surprised.

The Angus Reid Institute found Scheer, an active Catholic, suffered the most as a result of his religion. Commentators say it’s a key reason he announced last month he would step down as Conservative leader.

More than 51 per cent of Canadians told pollsters they developed a negative attitude to Scheer based on what they heard about his Catholicism and his beliefs.

A smaller proportion, 36 per cent, leaned negative about the religion of Trudeau, who says he is Catholic. Voters’ pessimism declined to 31 per cent for May, an Anglican who wears a small cross on a necklace, and to just 24 per cent for Singh, an orthodox Sikh who wears a turban and carries a ceremonial dagger.

Faith clearly remains combustible in Canada. Even though two of three Canadians believe having “freedom of religion” makes this a better country, more than one in five admitted they feel deeply “repelled” when a political candidate is a person of faith.

Scheer’s political opponents didn’t want voters to forget he is personally “pro life” on abortion. That lead to Scheer often saying “as leader of this party it is my responsibility to ensure we do not reopen this debate.”

Nor did Liberal or NDP campaigners want anyone to overlook that Scheer doesn’t attend Pride Parades. To which Scheer’s typical defence was, “I find the notion that one’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation would make anyone in any way superior or inferior to anybody else absolutely repugnant.”

But Scheer’s commitments to non-prejudicial behaviour did not assuage a suspicious electorate. Two of three Canadians said they don’t trust politicians to keep their personal views out of the public realm.

It’s possible, however, the public might have felt a bit more trusting of Scheer if they knew most of the country’s 13 million Catholics, many of whom are recent immigrants, are not nearly as uniform or doctrinaire as they are often portrayed.

Even though the Catholic church has long opposed any “direct attack on the fetus,” University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby and Angus Reid reveal in their book, Canada’s Catholics, that 85 per cent of Canadian Catholics approve of abortion when a woman’s life is in danger.

Illustrating striking variance among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, the book also shows half of Canadian Catholics believe “a woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion for any reason.” That was the same pro-choice stand championed by Trudeau and Singh.

When it comes to same-sex relationships, Catholic authorities continue to formally oppose them, while urging compassion. However, Canada’s Catholics are much like the rest of the laissez-faire population: “Close to two in three approve both of same-sex couples marrying and their adopting children.”

Canada’s 13 million Catholics are hardly doctrinaire on abortion or same-sex marriage. (Source: Canada’s Catholics)

Contradicting the pundits, who said before the election that Singh would provide the strongest test of voters’ tolerance for religious diversity, Angus Reid Institute polls show he was harmed the least because of his religion, in which he often expresses pride.

It’s conceivable many Canadians were, through extroverted, upbeat Singh, getting more exposure than ever to a member of the Sikh faith, which is about 500 years old, rooted in the Punjab region of India, has about 27 million followers and more than 500,000 in Canada (mostly in Greater Toronto and in Metro Vancouver).

But just as Scheer does not come close to representing all of Catholicism, Singh does not represent all Sikhs. Nobody, especially a politician, can embody everything about a faith (and that includes the pope).

Sikh scholars make it clear that followers hold a spectrum of beliefs about abortion and homosexuality, most of which are more conservative than those promoted by the NDP leader.

In Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed, respected University of Michigan professor Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair says the “idealistic” position in the Sikh religion, which teaches reincarnation, is opposition to abortion.

“To terminate a birth through abortion would be tantamount to refusing a soul entry into a particular body and sending it back to the cycle of birth and deaths — a choice that is not ours to make,” says Mandair.

However, the professor says many Sikhs today feel “morally ambiguous” about abortion and are less “hard and fast” about it. Mandair says Sikhism’s ethical bottom line is abortion, though sometimes acceptable, should not be “driven by selfish motives.”

In a similar vein, Mandair points out many Sikh leaders have condemned homosexuality in recent years, leading to most members of the faith believing in a “hetero-normative model of sexuality” that discourages alternative forms of family.

“Such a process of forcing homosexuals to go underground, as it were, has led to a belief among many Sikhs that there are no homosexual Sikhs,” says Mandair. Despite it, the professor maintains the primary source of Sikh ethics, the Guru Granth Sahib, does not justify castigating homosexuality.

All of which should help demonstrate that followers of religions are not monolithic. So we can always hope next time an election comes along more voters will have a bit better understanding of people of faith.

In that way perhaps fewer politicians will try to twist religion-linked concerns into dangerous wedge issues.

Source: Douglas Todd: We can stop typecasting Catholics and Sikhs — now the election is over

Douglas Todd: Robots replacing Canadian visa officers, Ottawa report says

Ongoing story, raising legitimate questions regarding the quality and possible bias of the algorithms used. That being said, human decision making is not bias free and using AI, at least in the more straightforward cases, makes sense from an efficiency and timeliness of service response.

Will be important to ensure appropriate oversight and there may be a need from an external body to review the algorithms to reduce risks if not already in place:

Tens of thousands of would-be guest workers and international students from China and India are having their fates determined by Canadian computers that are making visa decisions using artificial intelligence.

Even though Immigration Department officials recognize the public is wary about substituting robotic algorithms for human visa officers, the Liberal government plans to greatly expand “automated decision-making” in April of this year, according to an internal report.

“There is significant public anxiety over fairness and privacy associated with Big Data and Artificial Intelligence,” said the 2019 Immigration Department report, obtained under an access to information request. Nevertheless, Ottawa still plans to broaden the automated approval system far beyond the pilot programs it began operating in 2018 to process applicants from India and China.

At a time when Canada is approving more guest workers and foreign students than ever before, immigration lawyers have expressed worry about a lack of transparency in having machines make life-changing decisions about many of the more than 200,000 temporary visas that Canada issues each year.

The internal report reveals its departmental reservations about shifting more fully to an automated system — in particular wondering if machines could be “gamed” by high-risk applicants making false claims about their banking, job, marriage, educational or travel history.

“A system that approves applications without sufficient vetting would raise risks to Canadians, and it is understandable for Canadians to be more concerned about mistakenly approving risky individuals than about mistakenly refusing bona fide candidates,” says the document.

The 25-page report also flags how having robots stand in for humans will have an impact on thousands of visa officers. The new system “will fundamentally change the day-to-day work of decision-makers.”

Immigration Department officials did not respond to questions about the automated visa program.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland says Ottawa’s sweeping plan “to process huge numbers of visas fast and cheap” raises questions about whether an automated “Big Brother” system will be open to scrutiny, or whether it will lead to “Wizard of Oz” decision-making, in which it will be hard to determine who is accountable.

The publisher of the Lexbase immigration newsletter, which uncovered the internal document, was especially concerned that a single official has already “falsely” signed his or her name to countless visa decisions affecting migrants from India and China, without ever having reviewed their specific applications.

“The internal memo shows tens of thousands of visa decisions were signed-off under the name of one employee. If someone pulled that stunt on a visa application, they would be banned from Canada for five years for misrepresentation. It hides the fact it was really a machine that made the call,” said Kurland.

The policy report itself acknowledges that the upcoming shift to “hard-wiring” the visa decision-making process “at a tremendous scale” significantly raises legal risks for the Immigration Department, which it says is already “one of the most heavily litigated in the government of Canada.”

The population of Canada jumped by 560,000 people last year, or 1.5 per cent, the fastest rate of increase in three decades. About 470,000 of that total was made up of immigrants or newcomers arriving on 10-year multiple-entry visas, work visas or study visas.

The senior immigration officials who wrote the internal report repeatedly warn departmental staff that Canadians will be suspicious when they learn about the increasingly automated visa system.

“Keeping a human in the loop is important for public confidence. While human decision making may not be superior to algorithmic systems,” the report said, “human in-the-loop systems currently represent a form of transparency and personal accountability that is more familiar to the public than automated processes.”

In an effort to sell the automated system to a wary populace, the report emphasizes making people aware that the logarithm that decides whether an applicant receives a visa is not random. It’s a computer program governed by certain rules regarding what constitutes a valid visa application.

“A system that provides no real opportunity for officers to reflect is a de facto automated decision-making system, even when officers click the last button,” says the report, which states that flesh-and-blood women and men should still make the rulings on complex or difficult cases — and will also be able to review appeals.

“When a client challenges a decision that was made in full or in part by an automated system, a human officer will review the application. However, the (department) should not proactively offer clients the choice to have a human officer review and decide on their case at the beginning of the application process.”

George Lee, a veteran immigration lawyer in Burnaby, said he had not heard that machines are increasingly taking over from humans in deciding Canadian visa cases. He doesn’t think the public will like it when they learn it.

“People will say, ‘What are we doing here? Where are the human beings? You can’t do this. People are afraid of change. We want to keep the status quo.”

However, Lee said society’s transition towards replacing human workers with robots is “unstoppable. We’re seeing it everywhere.”

Lee believes people will eventually get used to the idea that machines are making vitally important decisions about human lives, including about people’s dreams of migrating to a new country.

“I think the use of robots will become more acceptable down the road,” he said. “Until the robots screw up.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Robots replacing Canadian visa officers, Ottawa report says

Douglas Todd: Up to 1 in 3 study-visa holders in Canada not in school

More on international students and some of the abuses of the program:

One in three people who entered Canada on student visas do not appear to have been enrolled at educational institutions in the country, Statistics Canada reports.

A recent StatsCan analysis could not find indications that 30.5 per cent of people in the country on post-secondary study permits in 2015 were signed up that year at a Canadian college or university.

The StatsCan study, by Marc Frenette, Yuquian Lu and Winnie Chan, echoes the findings of an internal Immigration Department report that revealed 25 per cent of would-be foreign students in Canada in 2018 were likely not complying with the conditions of their visa or were just not being monitored by school administrators.

The high no-show rate comes as there is a rising trend toward “edu-immigration” to Canada. Many foreign nationals are being encouraged by immigration agents to use Canada’s study permits to gain a relatively easy foothold in the country to find work, through which they can try to obtain permanent resident status.

Canada has a reputation as an unusually open country for international students, especially in the way it allows newcomers to study part-time and hold down an almost unlimited range of jobs. Compared to Britain, the U.S. and Australia, Canada is known for having a poor record of tracking study-visa holders once they’re in the country.

Vancouver immigration consultant Laleh Sahba and immigration lawyer Sam Hyman say it’s an unfortunate reality that many international students are being told by dubious agents they can bypass school to work. But the immigration specialists say such misuses shouldn’t overshadow that most international students are using the system responsibly.

The number of study-visa holders in Canada has shot up by 73 per cent in four years, to 573,000 in 2018, with the highest concentration in Metro Vancouver.

Many officials welcome the hike in high-fee-paying offshore students. They maintain they enhance cultural diversity on campuses and boost the budgets of public educational institutions, which are not being funded by governments as well as in the past.

In addition to articles published by Postmedia on loopholes in Canada’s study-visa program, The Toronto Star reported in November that many would-be international students are routinely fail to pursue their studies, instead looking for work and applying for permanent residency.

Some get caught. Canadian officials revoked 5,502 study visas last year, an almost-four-fold increase from 2016.

The Globe and Mail also reported last month that many trucking companies, primarily in Surrey, are taking large illegal cash payments from foreign students in exchange for truck-driver jobs that might help them qualify for permanent residency. The trucking companies send many of the study-visa holders out on the road with no training, leading to deadly accidents.

Visa officials appear to be starting to respond to flaws in Canada’s burgeoning program: A growing number of study-visa applications, two out of five, are now being rejected, Postmedia reported this month.

Immigration department officials have acknowledged a tenth of all study-visa applications are fraudulent, often because they use faked acceptance letters from Canadian institutions.

One of the disquieting findings in the StatsCan report is that 2015’s rate was an improvement over previous years: In 2009, only half of study-permit holders were signed up with a school.

When Postmedia asked Statistics Canada why such a large proportion of would-be foreign students appear to be avoiding studying, officials said the authors of the report were not permitted to directly answer Postmedia’s questions.

Although the report said statistical “noise” made it hard to precisely determine the ratio of study-visa holders who were not enrolled at the time researchers did their calculations, a Statistics Canada official also acknowledged: “We did not ask respondents their motivation for coming to Canada on a student visa. We only observed their work patterns.”

The study concluded that about one in four study-visa holders in Canada eventually gain permanent resident status. But beyond such data, the authors said, “Little is known about international students in Canada.”

Hyman, the immigration lawyer, says there is no doubt many study-permit holders come to Canada essentially to work and not to study.

“Some work full-time in contravention of the terms of their study permit, which limits them to working no more than 20 hours a week when school is in session, plus full-time during scheduled school vacations.” Some, Hyman said, obtain work “off the books for cash.”

Ottawa has failed to hire staff dedicated to enforcing the evolving rules about what it requires to be a genuine international student, said Hyman. “Still, sometimes detection occurs when the student goes to renew the initial student permit and has to demonstrate academic progress, or try to explain the lack of it.”

An Ottawa immigration official said that up until 2014, a prospective international student did not have to enrol in an educational program. He or she only needed to demonstrate an “intent” to study. It took until this year for Immigration Canada to more clearly define what it really means to “actively pursue” an academic program.

Canada’s more than 650 institutes of higher education are allowed to follow the honour system in informing authorities about study-visa infractions. And even though Canadian schools have been required since 2016 to report on their total international-student enrolment, 68 schools failed to do even that last year.

There can be legitimate reasons for not complying with study-visa requirements, including illness, running out of money or switching schools, says Sahba, the immigration consultant. But she’s convinced Canada’s institutes of higher learning should make it a higher priority to report on absent foreign students.

Sahba is disturbed by the dubious migration agents in Canada and abroad who increasingly tell young would-be migrants the easiest way to get permanent resident status in Canada is by obtaining a study visa, largely avoiding school and getting access to employers, some of whom exploit the workers in exchange for providing a crucial sponsorship letter.

While this is an “unfortunate reality” for some study-permit holders, Sahba said “there are also many responsible, ambitious and self-motivated international students currently studying in Canada. And many more waiting in the queue for their visas.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Up to 1 in 3 study-visa holders in Canada not in school

For the StatCan study: The Postsecondary Experience and Early Labour Market Outcomes of International Study Permit Holders