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The number of Chinese applying to immigrate to Canada has decreased sharply, reversing a long-term trend, while the number from India is on the rise.

The waning Chinese interest in Canada as a place to live is seen as nothing less than a "paradigm shift" that will alter the face of the country and affect everything from how financial institutions sell to funding for language classes.

"For years, China has dominated. This is about to change and there will be a dramatic shift in cultural taste," said Richard Kurland, a Vancouver immigration lawyer who obtained the data under the federal Access to Information Act. "There is also a lower cost to the Canadian taxpayer, as Indian immigrants usually speak English already and can hit the ground running."

Financial institutions should watch the trend closely, he added, as it will affect such areas as the real-estate market and marketing strategies for communication products and financial services.

In June of 2006, just 19,826 immigrant applications were processed at Canada's mission in Beijing , compared with 37,124 in July of 2004. The number of applicants from Hong Kong is also "in free fall," decreasing to 32,752 in June of this year from 47,260 in July of 2004.

In contrast, 132,693 immigrant applications were processed at Canada's mission in New Delhi in June of 2006 (20 per cent of the global total), compared with 88,383 in July of 2004 (16 per cent of the total).

These numbers include economic immigrants (skilled workers and entrepreneurs), refugees and people being sponsored by family members in Canada.

Lorne Waldman, a Toronto immigration lawyer, suggested the decline in the number of applicants from China could underscore their difficulty in meeting the selection criteria, particularly their ability to speak French or English, as well as their frustration with the long delays to have their files processed.

In 2001, the waiting time for an interview at the mission in Beijing was as long as 10 years. Today, waiting times in Beijing are between five and six years, about the same as they are in New Delhi.

"We have always had a massive inventory of skilled workers wanting to come to Canada. But if we don't make our system friendly to them, we won't have enough applicants to meet our quotas, especially because we are competing with Europe and the EU," Mr. Waldman said.

Marina Wilson, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration, said she could not speculate about the drop in applications from China. She said the downward trend was also reflected in the yearly totals over the past three years.

For the past several years, China has been among the top five source countries, if not the top, for immigration to Canada.

In 2005, 42,291 of the 262,236 immigrants who arrived here were from China, more than from any other country, while 33,000 were from India, in second place. However, these statistics are based on applications filed more than five years ago. "There is no doubt Indians are set to surpass Chinese," said Mr. Kurland, the Vancouver lawyer.

The decline in applicants from China could reflect the growing strength of China's economy, and the dramatic improvement in the quality of life there, suggested Max Berger, another Toronto immigration lawyer. As well, many Canadian lawyers and immigration consultants are now targeting India and travelling to Punjab to solicit new clients, he added.

Mr. Kurland believes adverse publicity from a class-action lawsuit launched against Citizenship and Immigration could also be partly to blame for Canada's decreasing popularity in China.

The lawsuit was launched after the department introduced more stringent selection criteria in 2002 and grossly underestimated the number of applicants in the backlog who had applied under the former, more lenient rules.

"More than 100,000 people, mainly Chinese applicants, were going to be failed," Mr. Kurland said. "The former government held out the unwelcome sign to China." After the Federal Court of Canada ruled against the department in 2004, the government agreed to process all pre-2002 applicants by 2008, under the previous guidelines. But the bad publicity had a permanent impact, Mr. Kurland argued.

In contrast, the number of immigrant applicants from London is on the rise, and has nearly doubled in the past two years to 71,262 in June of 2006, from 42,823 in July of 2004. Many of the applicants are not Britons. "About 62 per cent of the cases in inventory originated in the Gulf [states] and over 55 per cent of visas issued went to residents of the Gulf," according to the 2006-2007 planning report for London, obtained under the access-to-information legislation. Some Persian Gulf residents may be Indian nationals who worked in the gulf and then applied to immigrate to Canada, Mr. Kurland suggested.

The immigration inventory at Canada's missions in Manila, the Philippines and Islamabad is also growing, although not as quickly as in London and New Delhi.

It is difficult to know whether China's waning interest in Canada over the past three years is a long-term, permanent change, cautioned Jeffrey Reitz, a sociologist at the University of Toronto.

Losing Interest

Chinese interest in Canada as a place to live is in decline, reversing a long-term trend. The number of immigrant applications from China and Hong Kong has decreased notably in the past three years while the number of applicants from India has grown. This year, Indian nationals comprised 20 per cent of the total 630,000 immigrant applicants to Canada, while people from mainland China comprised just 3 per cent.