25-year-old internal memo to Canada Revenue Agency predicted foreign money distorting housing market

Pretty outrageous, both the initial non-release and the five-year ATIP battle. Kudos to Ian Young of the SCMP for persisting. David Anderson and Jane Stewart were ministers at the time:

An internal Canada Revenue Agency audit concluded 25 years ago that wealthy new immigrants were buying up most of the priciest houses taken from a sample in and around Vancouver while declaring poverty on their tax returns. But the report was not made public until a five-year access-to-information battle concluded recently.

Housing and immigration academics say the study could have warned the public about the scale of foreign money being parked in Metro Vancouver’s residential real estate – decades before the provincial government began taking meaningful action to slow this trend.

During the federal election campaign, all three major parties have proposed various policies to curb international demand for real estate, which has contributed to rising unaffordability in a number of urban centres.

The Liberals and Conservatives are promising to ban foreign home buyers for at least two years. The New Democrats have pledged to tax those who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents with a 20-per-cent levy – the same penalty imposed in British Columbia’s biggest cities for the past three years.

But critics say the parties need to follow B.C.’s lead to capture even more information about property owners so that they can be taxed more equitably and governments can tamp down international real estate speculation.

The CRA’s analysis from October, 1996, was shared with The Globe and Mail this week after its release to Ian Young, the South China Morning Post’s Vancouver correspondent who first requested the information in 2016 after being leaked portions of the internal memo explaining its findings.

The audit focused on 328 higher-end sales in the suburbs Burnaby and Coquitlam, but the study also analyzed a random sample of 6,060 sales from Vancouver and neighbouring Richmond and discovered “similar demographic results.”

Of the 46 houses bought in Burnaby, staff found 72 per cent were purchased by new arrivals to Vancouver who reported an average total family income of just $16,000. In contrast, the CRA’s chart from the audit showed four buyers who were long-term residents reported average family incomes that were tens of thousands of dollars higher.

This income gap between new immigrants and neighbours who had lived there longer was also observed in Coquitlam, according to the CRA’s chart released in the package of documents.

“It should be noted that an obvious large discrepancy exists between the average total family incomes for long-term Canadian residents and newer Canadian residents,” the author of the memo wrote to his CRA boss. “Furthermore, based on lifestyle and average age of these taxpayers, it is likely that many of these new Canadians still have active business activities, but are not reporting all their sources of income.”

Vancouver lawyer Richard Kurland, who has been helping international clients immigrate to B.C. for 25 years, said the analysis proves the CRA failed to catch those hiding their global income while competing for homes on Canada’s West Coast.

“They knew it was happening and did nothing, so the bleeding continued, taxes were not paid, property was subject to speculation and the end result [is] people in Vancouver are paying many more times than they have to for residential property because the CRA did nothing when it was warned by its own employees about what was going on,” he said.

David Ley, a geography professor at the University of B.C. who studies housing bubbles, said the 1996 report could have spurred politicians to address the anomaly of “apparently poor people buying very rich properties” decades earlier. He said the CRA had long maintained that they it would take too many resources to crack down on home buyers hiding wealth abroad, in large part because other countries they lived in were unlikely to release the pertinent tax information.

“It’s very difficult to pursue foreign sources of income – so they didn’t,” Dr. Ley said.

The CRA told The Globe this week that the study intentionally focused on cases where the buyer may have been underreporting their income and, thus, “was not intended to, and should not be, extrapolated to the whole population.”

But large parts of the internal communications around the release of this document were redacted because the agency said federal access-to-information law allows consultations or deliberations between government employees, a minister of the Crown or their staff to remain confidential.

The federal agency said it takes cheating its system seriously and has stepped up audits in the hot housing markets of Toronto and Vancouver in recent years. Still, the CRA said its five-year battle with Mr. Young over the release of this document is “clearly not normal, nor is it acceptable; we are continuing to take steps to improve [our] performance.”

Andy Yan, a housing analyst and director of Simon Fraser University’s city program, said the federal government has a lot of tools – such as home loan data and analysis of social demographic changes in neighbourhoods – through which it can confirm or refute how widespread these investment patterns have been. But, ultimately, he said, the CRA has not effectively enforced the country’s tax rules, helping create an unfair system where foreign capital is stored in residential real estate.

“There shouldn’t be any free parking,” said Mr. Yan.

In 2015, a Globe and Mail investigation into public data – including land titles, tax reporting and court records – revealed a similar pattern to the 1996 CRA study that suggested the typical wealthy foreign family buying Vancouver real estate pays little or no income or capital gains tax. These family homes were priced out of reach for many locals whose taxes pay for public services.

The Globe discovered that one in three multimillion-dollar homes bought in Vancouver areas popular with foreign buyers was registered to a homemaker, student or corporation – one indicator of how the identity of the person who actually paid can be hidden.

When a spouse or child sells a property that is registered in their name, the real investor can avoid capital-gains taxes – because the relative in Canada can claim it was their primary residence, therefore not an investment.

This and other Globe investigations helped increase public pressure on the provincial Liberal government to enact Canada’s first tax on foreign homebuyers. After the New Democrats were elected in 2017, in part on their pledge to further crack down on expanding real estate speculation, B.C. implemented a host of new taxes and demand-side tools.

Mr. Kurland said more provinces need to follow B.C.’s lead in requiring that homebuyers declare their country of residence for tax purposes as well as create a registry for beneficial owners – which will come into full force at the end of this year to make it tougher for people to hide real estate investments behind corporations, trusts or partnerships.

He said the CRA’s current “whack-a-mole” approach to catching scofflaws in the housing market relies on auditors digging for specific information in individual cases, but it will soon be able to use algorithms to scour all its tax information and these twin data sets to better catch those hiding wealth in B.C.

“It’s equivalent of an abacus versus a spreadsheet,” said Mr. Kurland, who added that he saw a “massive selling spree” among foreign owners in B.C. before each of those two policies became law.

Rohana Rezel, a software engineer who advocates for more affordable housing by using software and data to uncover speculators in Metro Vancouver’s market, said the most effective federal policy on this issue would be to blanket the whole country with a speculation tax on all homes.

Then, owners could offset this two-per-cent penalty against what they pay to the CRA each year, said Mr. Rezel.

“If you’re paying income taxes of a certain amount it doesn’t apply to you,” said Mr. Rezel, who immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka in 2008.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/british-columbia/article-25-year-old-internal-memo-to-canada-revenue-agency-predicted-foreign/

Pandemic likely to drive a surge in immigration fraud, border agency warns

Not all that surprising:

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to drive an increase in immigration fraud and human smuggling as desperate migrants try to get into Canada, says a strategic intelligence report prepared by the Canada Border Service Agency.

The report warns that economic downturns and increased poverty abroad caused by the pandemic will prompt more people to resort to irregular methods to come to Canada.

“With more people looking to immigrate, there is likely to be an increase in fraud in all immigration streams via the use of fraudulent supporting documentation to bolster visa or permanent resident applications, fraudulently acquired travel documents to be able to board flights to Canada and misrepresentation,” says the report, dated June 2020.

Source: Pandemic likely to drive a surge in immigration fraud, border agency warns

Canada’s record-setting invitation to immigrants after COVID shortfall an ‘absolute shock’

More reaction to the minimal Express Entry score of 75 and essentially opening to all with work experience in Canada. Money quote: “The draw transforms a well-structured and predictable system into a lottery ticket,” said [immigration lawyer Sergio] Karas. “It makes the system look worthless and game-able.”:

If you’re an immigrant living in Canada and looking for permanent residency, this might be your lucky year.

Canada has set a record for the number of skilled migrants invited to apply for permanent residence on a single day, as the government scrambles to make up for an immigration shortage caused by COVID-19 and the resulting travel restrictions.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, the immigration department held its latest draw from a pool of candidates and issued 27,332 invitations — five times more than its previous high of 5,000 people — to hopeful candidates already living in the country.

The news caught immigration experts and applicants by surprise and created a buzz on social media, with pundits tagging it #SaturdaySurprise from Canada.

“It was an absolute shock to everyone. We all thought there was a glitch on our screens and the numbers were incorrect,” said Kareem El-Assal, managing editor of immigration news site CIC News and policy director at CanadaVisa.com.

The plan is not without its critics, however, who say the strategy could open up the program to people with limited qualifications who would have been out of luck had it not been for Ottawa’s attempt to meet its immigration targets in the middle of a pandemic.

Applying for permanent residency is usually a long and competitive process.

Skilled immigrants who are interested must create a profile in a government management system called Express Entry, where they score points for things such as age, language skills, educational attainments and work experience.

The highest rankings are then invited via routine draws to apply for immigration. While an individual typically needs a minimum score of 400 points or above to make the cutoff, the lowest-ranked person invited in the latest round only had a score of 75. (The immigration department posts the results of each draw on its website.)

This latest draw applies to people in what’s called Canadian Experience Class, meaning they’ve worked in the country.

The instance of requirement loosening means some applicants, with scores too low to normally be considered, are now being encouraged to create a profile and try their luck, experts say.

“Between now and the next draw, you are going to have more Canadian Experience Class candidates entering the pool,” said El-Assal.

“If I’m in Canada right now and I meet the minimum requirements, I will be rushing to submit my profile ASAP because there’s a very good chance that I will be invited.”

Given the challenges presented by the travel restrictions and reduced processing capacity, El-Assal expects the immigration department will continue to prioritize immigration candidates from within Canada before it looks further abroad.

Canada had set to bring in 340,000 new permanent residents in 2020, but ultimately only 180,000 landed here, the lowest annual immigration intake since 1998, according to El-Assal.

This year, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino planned to bump up immigration levels to 401,000 in order to make immigration part of Canada’s economic recovery post-COVID-19.

But as the pandemic continues, international travel remains slow, and immigration with it.

“They’ve got these massive (immigration) levels that they have to hit and they took a real beating last year. They thought the border would be more open now but they are not. They’re scrambling to find a way to meet those targets,” said Alberta-based immigration lawyer Mark Holthe, chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section.

“This was a really wonderful development. So many people have invested so much time and effort in getting here in the first place, whether it’s the hundreds of thousands of dollars that (foreign) students have paid and worked here. They’re paying taxes. They’re contributing. It’s not like they’re on handouts.”

In a news release, the immigration department said 90 per cent of the 27,332 people invited in this round are already living in Canada, with at least one year of Canadian work experience.

“This means they’re unaffected by current travel restrictions and won’t face the same barriers as overseas applicants when gathering the required documentation and undergoing criminality and medical screening,” it said.

“Those invited to apply who are not currently living in Canada will be able to travel once restrictions are lifted.”

However, Toronto immigration lawyer Sergio Karas said trying to meet the immigration target by lowering the bar is a “terrible” way to make policies.

The latest draw unfairly rewards the low scorers, who “took a flyer” and entered the pool, he said, even if they have poor qualifications, poor language skills and poor job prospects while qualified applicants who are still collecting documentation and not yet in the system lose out.

“The draw transforms a well-structured and predictable system into a lottery ticket,” said Karas. “It makes the system look worthless and game-able.”

Since immigration employees are still working from home, he questioned whether the department has the processing capacity for the flood of applications coming from this draw without compromising the processing time or quality of decisions.

Independent immigration policy analyst Richard Kurland said the system is nimble and flexible as it’s supposed to in adapting to the challenging environment under the pandemic.

“Due to COVID, fewer people registered in the system, resulting in a lower pass mark,” he said. “Now, the publicity (of this news) will flood the system with new candidates. You’ll likely see a lot more people registering just in case immigration lightning strikes twice, increasing the pass mark again.”

Source: Canada’s record-setting invitation to immigrants after COVID shortfall an ‘absolute shock’

Douglas Todd: Canada’s foreign-student policy needs public review, say experts

Noteworthy from who the call is coming from, the generally pro-immigration experts. Royal commissions appear to have fallen out of  favour given the time involved but nevertheless Canada benefits from those more in-depth reviews:

The public is in the dark about how Canadian immigration policy has been changed to give preference to international students, say experts.

Ottawa should set up a royal commission to look into issues such as whether Canadians agree that foreign students, who tend to come from the “cream of the crop” in their homelands, should go to the front of the line for permanent residence status, says Chris Friesen, who chairs the umbrella body overseeing settlement services in Canada.

Most Canadians have no idea that roughly one in three people approved each year as immigrants — especially during COVID-19-battered 2020 — were already living in the country as either foreign students or temporary workers, says Friesen, who also directs the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., which has provided support to tens of thousands of newcomers.

Source: Douglas Todd: Canada’s foreign-student policy needs public review, say experts

Chinese state-owned fund among backers of company handling Canadian visa applications

Worrisome. Of note, however, according to their website TT Services lists Australia, New Zealand and the USA as clients, so the issue is broader than just Canada:

One of China’s largest state-owned investment funds is among the biggest backers of a company the Canadian government uses to collect and process personal information from visa applicants around the world.

The ownership structure has prompted some of Canada’s former foreign intelligence leaders to warn that Ottawa should think carefully about trusting sensitive information to a company partly owned by the Chinese state.

Documents filed with Britain’s corporate registry, Companies House, show Chengdong Investment Corp. as one of the most significant contributing partners to the parent company of TT Services, which runs visa application centres for the Canadian government in 24 countries. Its services include collecting fingerprints, photos, biographical information and other personal data.

Chengdong is a subsidiary of China Investment Corp., a Chinese state-run giant with more than US$1-trillion in assets.

TT Services is owned by VFS Global, which calls itself the “world’s largest visa outsourcing and technology services specialist.” Headquartered in Dubai, VFS operates in 144 countries.

Immigration consultants in Canada have raised concerns about the contract with VFS since 2008, when the company began processing visas in China, where police can access corporate offices. Chinese national law also requires any organization operating inside the country to co-operate with intelligence services.

Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, said the amount of personal information VFS handles is immense.

“Passing through their hands are the family trees of applicants,” Mr. Kurland said. “The VFS organization may have more personal information on applicants for immigrant services than entire countries do.”

VFS was founded in 2001 by Zubin Karkaria, an Indian entrepreneur who remains its chief executive officer. But today, its majority owner is EQT VII (No. 1) Limited Partnership, whose registered office is in Edinburgh. That company, British documents show, has numerous partners.

Two of the largest are Eight Finance Investment Co. Ltd., which belongs to the Hong Kong sovereign wealth fund, and Chengdong Investment Corp.

The records show that both Eight and Chengdong made €25,000 ($39,000) in capital contributions, considerably more than other investors, which include pension funds and banks – some of whom contributed as little as €20.

The small figures belie the importance of those investments. In limited partnerships, investments are often made as loans, the size of which can far outstrip the capital contributions. Larger contributions usually entitle investors to a larger share of profits.

In general, “if you contribute more, you get more out of the investment,” said Bobby Reddy, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law.

VFS and the Canadian government say their agreement includes privacy safeguards. And under British law, limited partners such as Chengdong are meant to be “passive or silent investors,” Mr. Reddy said.

But Richard Fadden, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) who served as national security adviser to two prime ministers, said he does not think it is appropriate for a company with Chinese state-enterprise ownership to handle visa applications for the Canadian government.

He said that Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne recently ordered a review of a deal in which a Chinese state-owned company would provide new X-ray security equipment for Canadian embassies.

“It seems to me that if there are concerns in Ottawa about a company that is owned by the Chinese company operating X-ray machines in Canadian embassies, then there should be an equal amount of concern about the possibility that a Chinese company might have access to all sorts of information about foreigners wanting to come to Canada,” Mr. Fadden said.

“This is information that might be just as useful to the Chinese state, especially, if and when, they reach Canada.”

In a statement to The Globe, EQT spokesman Daniel Ketema confirmed that EQT VII (No. 1) holds majority ownership of VFS, but declined comment on the role of Chengdong.

“We are not allowed to disclose names of investors or their stakes in EQT’s funds,” Mr. Ketema wrote in an e-mail.

VFS chief communications officer Peter Brun said “VFS Global does not store any personal data related to a visa application. All data is purged from its systems in accordance with regulations set out by client governments.”

“The EQT VII fund doesn’t have access to any data from VFS Global nor any of its other portfolio companies,” he said.

The Chinese government has in recent years asserted more intensive control of companies inside its borders, both state-controlled and private entities alike. In September, the Communist Party urged privately owned companies to employ “politically sensible people” who will “firmly listen to the party and follow the party.”

State-owned firms also form a key pillar of Chinese foreign policy, and the country has sought to boost the overseas reach of its financial institutions.

Ward Elcock, a former director of CSIS, said the connections of a Chinese state-owned firm and the Hong Kong sovereign wealth fund to VFS Global need to be investigated further to determine whether the threat is serious.

“I think that the role that Chengdong plays ought to raise a few eyebrows, even if it is as part of a limited partnership,” Mr. Elcock said. “Visas and the associated applications would, I suspect, be of interest to the Chinese, so there is at least the risk that they would want to find some way to obtain access.”

“In the current environment, it would be less than wise to ignore the potential risks,” he said. “As to the Hong Kong sovereign wealth fund, we would not have thought of them as a problem until recently, but increasingly it is clear that the Hong Kong of the past will not be the Hong Kong of the future. Instead, it will simply be an extension of the regime in Beijing with a few bells and whistles retained … so, again reason for more enquiries.”

In Canada, the Liberal government has said it wants to bring in 1.2 million immigrants over the next three years, including 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021.

In other countries, VFS shares revenues with governments. Canada’s government “does not receive a portion of revenues from VFS for premium services nor does it collect any revenues from VFS Global,” Béatrice Fénelon, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said in a statement.

“Safeguards governing the protection of personal information are built into the terms of the contract between the VACs and the government of Canada,” Ms. Fénelon said.

She declined comment on the VFS ownership structure, but said using the company allows the Canadian government to “offer extended hours of operation and more points of service that make it convenient and accessible for applicants to submit their application and provide their biometrics.”

The contract with VFS will remain in place until Oct. 31, 2023. It can be extended for up to three years, but late this summer, Ottawa began a process to replace current contracts.

The government is seeking input on what visa application centres might look like in the future, including promotion of Canada as a destination of choice; collection of biometric information; premium services that would be offered for a fee; and tighter links with the government through provision of “interview facilitation, interview rooms, and videoconferencing.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-chinese-state-owned-fund-among-backers-of-company-handling-canadian/

Canada begins accepting Hong Kong pro-democracy activists as refugees

Welcome and likely the start of a future wave:

Canada has begun accepting Hong Kong pro-democracy activists as refugees, a sign that this country is opening its doors to those fleeing Beijing’s crackdown on civil rights in the former British colony.

In a Sept. 1 letter, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada notified a married couple from Hong Kong, both in their early 30s, that the refugee protection division has determined they are “Convention refugees” and their claims for asylum have been accepted.

Under Canadian law, a “Convention refugee” refers to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and is defined as someone who cannot return to their home “due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion” or other factors.

The Globe And Mail spoke to the Hong Kong couple, who originally arrived in Canada last December, but is withholding reporting certain details of their cases because they fear retribution against themselves or families back in Hong Kong by agents of the Chinese Communist Party. The Globe is also granting them confidentiality for the same reason.

The Hong Kong man, 33, who has been accepted as a refugee, said he was a very active protester in the pro-democracy movement in the Asian city, including with a well-known political party that put pressure on the local government to implement universal suffrage. He and his wife, 30, also took to street protests in 2019 amid mass demonstrations that followed efforts by Hong Kong’s leadership to enact legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China.

The man said he was on the front lines of demonstrations in 2019 and ran a warehouse to produce defensive equipment for protesters. He said he was at one point detained by Chinese authorities – they were not wearing uniforms – and Hong Kong police followed him and searched his home, but he was never charged.

He said near the end of his time in Hong Kong, fearful for his safety, he ended up hiding in a cave under a building.

Now, with asylum in Canada, he said: “It feels now like I no longer need to hide, and I am finally somewhere I can live safely.”

He said he is very thankful for Canada’s decision, a country he said shares common values with Hong Kongers.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who is not representing them, said he believes these two Hong Kongers are among the first pro-democracy activists to be granted asylum. He said he believes a few others may have already obtained refugee status as well.

“These are the first of a small number,” Mr. Kurland, based in Vancouver, said. “This is like the starter’s gun.”

He said accepting refugees from Hong Kong, however, is an indictment of the Asian city’s justice system, which still retains the legacy of institutional frameworks from Britain, despite Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China under a one-country, two-systems formula.

“By implication, the Canadian refugee determination system has put the Hong Kong judicial system into disrepute. The person has no internal flight alternative, and cannot reasonably rely upon Hong Kong’s judicial structure for protection.”

The Globe reported earlier this year that close to 50 Hong Kongers – many of whom took part in the massive demonstrations that began last year – have already applied for asylum in Canada, citing harassment and brutality at the hands of police in Hong Kong and fear of unjust prosecution.

Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong said Canada must do more than just “accept a handful” of asylum seekers from Hong Kong, where a harsh new security law was imposed by Beijing this summer – one that criminalizes dissent and opposition.

“Processing a handful of asylum claims from those fleeing Hong Kong is not commensurate to the crisis that is unfolding there,” he said. “Canada needs to do more to provide a path for those seeking asylum from the imposition of China’s draconian new national security law.”

Mr. Chong said Canada should work with allies, such as Britain, to admit many more Hong Kongers fleeing. There is no reason why Canada couldn’t follow the British lead by offering a path to citizenship to Hong Kong residents, he said.

Hong Kongers coming to Canada would enrich the country because “they are highly educated” and would provide immense economic benefit, he added.

Avvy Go of Toronto’s Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic said it’s urgent to act now to help the people of Hong Kong.

“The situation is getting worse. More and more people have been arrested. It is clear the Hong Kong government is not going back down. … We need [to] act now before they arrest more people and their passports are seized,” she said.

Mr. Kurland said he still expects a surge of immigration from Hong Kong and more refugee claims. Canada has not yet unveiled special measures to facilitate migration from Hong Kong. He said Ottawa appears to be keeping this in abeyance until “things turn urgent and you see a wave of claimants from Hong Kong.”

Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, an international champion of human rights, urged the Trudeau government to grant asylum to any Hong Kong resident seeking to escape China’s draconian national security law.

“I wouldn’t be limiting it to two. This has been such a serious assault on democracy for the national security legislation that impacts on everyone … and puts anyone in Canada who supports them at risk so we need to have a response that says we are here to protect those who we are able to protect and to facilitate their coming to Canada,” he said.

The Hong Kong couple accepted as refugees received the support of a Canadian group called New Hong Kong Cultural Club.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-canada-starts-accepting-hong-kong-activists-as-refugees/

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

Freeland mum on whether Hong Kong asylum seekers will be granted refuge as bigger wave predicted

Hard to see why these claims would not be accepted by the IRB:

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, asked about dozens of asylum claims made by Hong Kong protesters in Canada, praised the rich contribution immigrants from this former British colony have made to this country but declined to indicate whether Ottawa would grant the applicants refuge.

Ms. Freeland told media Monday that while she can’t comment on specific asylum claims, which she said need to be adjudicated “very carefully and very thoughtfully,” Canadians agree that migrants from Hong Kong have been a boon for this country.

“Canada has benefited hugely from the immigration of people from Hong Kong to Canada. They contribute tremendously to our society and I think all of us are very glad that so many people from Hong Kong have chosen to make their home and their lives here,” Ms. Freeland said.

As the Globe and Mail first reported Monday, 46 Hong Kong citizens – many of whom took part in the massive demonstrations that began last year as China tightened its grip on the Asian city – are seeking asylum in Canada, citing harassment and brutality at the hands of police and fear of unjust prosecution.

This may only be the start of a bigger wave of asylum seekers, experts say.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian diplomat, and Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer and immigration policy analyst with extensive experience in dealing with Asian migration, both say these cases are likely the beginning of a surge in refugee claims from Hong Kong as political turmoil there continues.

The 46 would-be refugees from Hong Kong applied for asylum claims between Jan 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020. The claims, which are all pending, were received at airports, Canada Border Security Agency bureaus and Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada offices (IRCC) across the country. Many of those claiming asylum in Canada face charges in Hong Kong in connection with the protests.

Wenran Jiang, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, said Canada should proceed cautiously. “If Ottawa officially encourages and offers political asylum to protesters in Hong Kong, even [if] some of them clearly broke the law by being violent, Beijing is likely to interpret such a move as interfering in China’s domestic affairs, leading to adding more chill to an already cold-bilateral relationship.”

Canada’s relations within China deteriorated significantly in late 2018 after Ottawa arrested a Chinese high-tech executive on a U.S. extradition request and Beijing, in what was widely seen as retaliation, locked up two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who sits on the House of Commons Canada-China committee, said there are valid reasons for granting asylum to pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong. He said he hopes Canada doesn’t turn away these claimants for fear of offending China.

“The adjudication of asylum claims is an independent process and certainly determination should never be influenced by politics or fears of political retaliation,” he said. “We should absolutely be accepting asylum claims on their merit and … based on what I have heard about these claims there is a strong case to be made for their merit given the human rights abuses that we know of in Hong Kong.”

Mr. Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, agrees that Beijing would be displeased if Canada were to grant asylum to Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates, but he also says they merit refuge.

“Given what is happening in Hong Kong and the fact that China is encroaching more and more on the rights of Hong Kong citizens …. clearly these people have a legitimate [reason] to think that their rights will not be respected,” he said.

Mr. Saint-Jacques said he expects there will be a large influx of people coming from Hong Kong in the months ahead, including many of the 300,000 residents of the Asian city who hold Canadian passports.

“I think these people would make a good contribution [to Canada] but the big dilemma for the federal government is that this is happening at the time when we need China’s goodwill to supply medical equipment we are desperate for,” he said.

Mr. Kurland said he thinks the 46 asylum claims may be the beginning of a rise in refugee applicants from Hong Kong.

“There may be legs to this,” he said. “Planning for a sudden climb in Hong Kong refugee claim numbers is prudent.”

Today, as many as 500,000 Canadians of Hong Kong descent live in Canada, according to Hong Kong Watch.

Source: Freeland mum on whether Hong Kong asylum seekers will be granted refuge as bigger wave predicted

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

Experts surprised immigration didn’t play more prominent role in federal leaders’ debate

I was less surprised than those listed, as the parties have (correctly) calculated that making immigration a major issue has electoral risks in ridings with large numbers of immigrants and visible minorities (905, BC’s lower mainland, and elsewhere), as Kurland and Smith note.

The same could be said for the campaign in general, although immigration issues get more play in ethnic media as my weekly analyses for diversityvotes.ca shows.

Apart of course from the PPC:

Excluding an early question that provoked a barrage of attacks against People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, Monday night’s leaders debate featured few questions about immigration — and none about refugees, specifically.

This left some migration experts feeling surprised and disappointed that immigration issues — which have been the source of heated political exchanges in Canada over the past two years — didn’t play more prominently in the debate.

“There was no substance on immigration policy, on Canada’s refugee policy, on Canada’s role in the world on these issues,” said Queen’s University law professor Sharry Aiken.

“I was disappointed that there wasn’t much there.”

Aiken says that the section of the debate dedicated to “polarization, human rights and immigration” focused almost entirely on Quebec’s contentious Bill 21, the religious symbols ban that bars religious head coverings in some sections of the public service, and that immigration issues were overshadowed by the discussion about discrimination.

The rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about whether these new arrivals pose a threat

The rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about whether these new arrivals pose a threat

Aiken believes discussing Bill 21 is very important, but she thinks debate moderators could have been better at focusing their questions on specific issues, such as the recent challenges faced by Canada’s asylum system.

The standout moment for Aiken on immigration was Bernier’s claim that Canada takes in more immigrants than any other western nation.

Aikeen says this claim is untrue. Citing a recent report from the World Economic Forum, she says Australia has a higher ratio of immigrants — 28 per cent of its population compared to Canada at 21 per cent.

She also questions Bernier’s math about letting in more economic immigrants. Bernier has claimed Canada should reduce immigration levels to 150,000 a year, while at the same time taking in more economic immigrants.

But in 2017, Canada accepted roughly 159,000 economic immigrants, she said. If Bernier’s immigration policy was implemented, Canada would actually see an overall reduction in economic immigration.

Meanwhile, Sean Rehaag, director of York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies, was also surprised by the fact that “a debate where immigration was expected to play a major role” had so few questions about immigration.

He noted that neither the influx of irregular border crossings that began in April 2017 nor the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States figured prominently in the debate.

This is also one of the issues where the parties have distinct policy options when it comes to how Canada should handle its asylum system.

No ‘political capital’ to be gained on immigration

Others were less surprised that immigration wasn’t a bigger topic for party leaders.

Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, thinks the lack of attention on immigration means political parties have decided that no “political capital” can be gained from this issue.

“It was a good move on the part of all the parties not to go there,” Kurland said.

Craig Damian Smith, director of the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto, agrees that it was wise for the leaders not to focus on immigration, particularly the divisive issues around refugee resettlement and how to handle irregular migration at unofficial ports of entry.

Scheer claims asylum seekers are ‘skipping the line’

Like Kurland, Smith thinks the party leaders have realized that immigration isn’t an issue where voters can be won or lost.

This doesn’t mean immigration isn’t important, Smith said. It just means that when it comes time to vote on Oct. 21, he believes most Canadians will be focused on issues like health care, education and the economy.

Smith also pointed out what he saw as a significant moment in the debate — that is, when Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer lashed out at Bernier for his past comments about immigrants, saying Bernier had changed from someone who used to believe in an immigration system that was fair, orderly and compassionate to someone who bases his policies on the number of likes and retweets he gets on social media from the “darkest parts of Twitter.”

According to Smith, this “well-rehearsed” line shows that the Conservatives now realize Canadians, on average, support the country’s current approach to immigration.

Smith still thinks that who wins the election could have big consequences on the future of immigration in Canada — especially for refugees — but in Monday’s debate, at least, it looked like everyone other than Bernier agreed immigration is important to Canada’s future.

“Even when they had the section on polarization, human rights and immigration, they all took that opportunity to steer it towards other issues, either to attack one another or to bolster their own position on other issues,” he said.

“It’s a good thing, or it’s at least a good sign, that they decided to steer the debate away from [immigration] because it means that that’s not going to be an issue that Canadians are going to vote on.”

Source: Experts surprised immigration didn’t play more prominent role in federal leaders’ debate