The Canadian government is preparing to reject the permanent residence applications of three Chinese people who work for China's telecom giant Huawei, citing concerns of spying, terrorism or government subversion.
A fourth individual, who used to work for Huawei and whose spouse is currently employed by the company, was also told the couple's application would be rejected. The cases come after Huawei, the world's third-largest smartphone maker, which started operating in Canada in 2008, faced unsubstantiated spying concerns in recent years.
In a March 18 letter from the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong, an immigration officer told a Chinese applicant that officials were preparing to reject the person's application, which also included the applicant's spouse; both individuals currently work for Huawei. The letter said there are "reasonable grounds" to believe the principal applicant is inadmissible under section 34(1)(f) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which deems individuals involved in espionage, terrorism or government subversion inadmissible.
In separate letter, dated March 21, an immigration official rejected another Chinese applicant because there were "reasonable grounds" to believe the applicant's spouse was inadmissible under the same section of the act, meaning the principal applicant was also inadmissible by association. The principal applicant used to work for Huawei, while the spouse works for the company.
A source provided the names of the four individuals to The Globe and Mail under strict confidentiality. Both couples are represented by Jean-François Harvey, a Canadian immigration lawyer based out of Hong Kong.
Mr. Harvey said that beyond the March letters, he has not received any other details supporting the Canadian government's allegations against his clients. He said he finds the timing of the letters suspicious, given the fact that the couples' applications are unrelated. He said there is only one common denominator between them – Huawei.
"In 24 years, I've never seen such letters before. And the only thing in common with these persons is that they are Huawei employees," said Mr. Harvey, who has represented at least 10 other Huawei employees in China, all of whom have successfully immigrated to Canada.
"I'm convinced, personally, that it's based on those [international spying] allegations."
Huawei is an employee-owned company based in China that currently operates in 170 countries, including the United States, where it has run into some problems in recent years. In 2012, a U.S. House Intelligence Committee report said that Huawei posed a risk of "further economic and foreign espionage by a foreign nation-state [China] already known to be a major perpetrator of cyber espionage," but could not prove any wrongdoing. While the company currently operates across the United States, it is barred from bidding on contracts with tier-one carriers, such as Verizon and AT&T.
Australia also blocked Huawei in 2012 from bidding on its national broadband network over cybersecurity concerns. Huawei continues to operate in Australia and denies all spying allegations.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office refused to comment on Huawei's presence in Canada, saying it does not comment on national-security operational matters. Huawei is now well-established in Canada, with some 650 employees across the country.
In 2010, the company received a $6.5-million grant from the Ontario government in exchange for investing $67-million and creating 164 new jobs over five years. Since then, Huawei has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Ontario, creating hundreds of research and development jobs. Ontario Immigration Minister Michael Chan's office referred questions about the immigration cases to the federal government; Mr. Chan is also the MPP for Markham, where Huawei's headquarters are based.
Federal Immigration Minister John McCallum, who also represents Markham, said he wasn't aware of the rejected immigration cases and would look into the matter . In a follow-up e-mail, the minister's office said they could not comment on the details of the cases.
Huawei is distancing itself from the applications. Scott Bradley, vice-president of corporate and government affairs for Huawei Canada, said in a statement that the company has had an "established, efficient and positive working relationship" with the government since 2008. He said that relationship, combined with the company's process for managing immigration applications and the successful number of applications over the past eight years, reaffirms Huawei's belief that the applications in question have nothing to do with the company.
"While this is a matter that Huawei takes very seriously, it is important to note the letter provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in no way makes reference to Huawei," Mr. Bradley said. "While we have no way of knowing the identity of the individuals in question, nor ability to track those immigration requests made independent of Huawei, we have no record of any Huawei employee being denied entry or immigration by the government of Canada using the established visa process."
However, Mr. Harvey said there is no way for Huawei to know anything about his clients' cases.
"This is a private application that has nothing to do with their employment," Mr. Harvey said. "Their employees can apply whenever they want and feel free to do what they want with their life."
According to Mr. Harvey, the applications were submitted through New Brunswick's provincial nominee program, which allows the province to nominate immigrants with desired skills, education and work experience. While the applicants included their work experience in their applications, Mr. Harvey said they do not plan on working for Huawei in Canada and, rather, hope to find work in their field. One applicant currently works as a translator for Huawei in China, while the other worked in marketing for the company; both speak English.
Mr. Harvey said he was surprised to receive the letters informing his clients of their looming rejection, given that they had not had any issues since they submitted their applications two years ago. He said his clients were at the end of the application process and the next step was to issue the visas.
The government gave the applicants 30 days to provide more information on their cases, which Mr. Harvey filed on time. He said he is still waiting to hear back from the government.
Toronto-based immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges said that while she has seen terrorism concerns raised in past immigration applications, it's rare to see the government cite espionage, especially with a Chinese application.
"I've never personally seen one [rejection] from China under this section at all," Ms. Desloges said. "Anything under section 34, the government takes it extremely seriously."
A dozen temporary residency applications were rejected for security concerns, including espionage, subversion or terrorism, in 2014, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada numbers.
The only way for an applicant to overturn the government's rejection under section 34 is to persuade the Minister of Public Safety that they are not detrimental to national interests of Canada, according to Ms. Desloges. Historically, she said the government delays decisions on those kinds of cases because they are a "hot potato."