A group of Chinese-community leaders and businessmen in Vancouver has strongly criticized the government's move to end the federal investor immigrant program, saying they were not consulted, that the move tars the entire Chinese business community, and that it is likely to scare off Chinese investors considering Canada.
In the budget last week, the government announced an immediate end to the immigrant investor program – under which people with a net worth of $1.6-million lend the government $800,000 interest-free for five years in exchange for permanent residency – and cleared out a backlog of tens of thousands of applicants, many of whom are from China.
The government said many of the people who use the program have only "tenuous" ties to Canada, and even some Chinese-Canadians in Vancouver – where many mainland and Hong Kong investors live – have the impression that some of the investor immigrants buy houses and cars and bring their families over, then return to China and Asia to do most of their business.
In a press conference in Vancouver's historic Chinatown, several Chinese investors and community leaders called the move unfair to those who had been waiting years, and demeaning to the 130,000 people who have immigrated here using the program, many of whom, they said, manage businesses in Canada.
Although immigrant investors can come to Canada under other programs, the activists and business people who called the press conference on Tuesday said the government made the change in a way that was offensive to Chinese-Canadians and will hurt business ties with China.
The immigrant investors also complained that the federal government has done very little to help them set up businesses here, learn languages and otherwise integrate into Canadian society. At the same time, they said, their economic contributions seem to be discredited.
Charlie Zhang, who came over on the program, said he had persuaded many wealthy friends to apply. But now some plan to take their money elsewhere, such as Australia.
"When we close our business, our factory, in China and come here we have already lost a lot," he told reporters at the Floata Seafood and Chinese restaurant. "This is bad for investment… Uncertainty is bad for investment."
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who was in Vancouver, said: "We will not waste taxpayers' dollars on programs that do not meet their objectives, are vulnerable to abuse, or do not promote Canadian interests. We are exploring alternate options, including at least one pilot program as announced in the budget. We can and will do better than the IIP."
Some saw political motives. "To me, it's about pleasing the Conservative base," said Gabriel Yiu, a community activist who has run provincially with the NDP and also runs three retail stores in Vancouver. Other community leaders, including James Wang, a trustee for the Burnaby school board, said the government's contention that investor immigrants pay less tax than other immigrants – was divisive. "It destroys the harmony of the community," he said.
James Liu, an investor immigrant who came to Canada through a provincial investor program in Quebec, said he runs two restaurants, employs roughly 40 people, and has a son here who is already engaged in business. He said that if there are immigrant investors who are not paying tax, then the government should crack down on them without ending the entire program, and that the government should have, at the very least, consulted with the community.
"Anything can be changed," Mr. Liu said. "But you should let the community know."