Canada hasn’t come in for much good press of late in China. It’s been pilloried as a “henchman” of the United States and subjected to scathing commentary after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last year.
But that has so far not soured the interest of Chinese travellers in coming to Canada.
December was the second-busiest month in the past two years for Chinese visitor visa applications, according to statistics collected by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Canadian authorities received 81,652 applications from Chinese citizens for visitor visas, more than double the number in December, 2017. Canada issued 43,028 visitor visas in December, up more than 40 per cent from the same month a year prior.
The numbers are likely to have been boosted by a rush of applicants ahead of new requirements, effective Dec. 31, that require biometric information – fingerprints and photos – for most kinds of visas.
“While we can’t speculate on the specific reasons for the increase in application volumes for Chinese nationals in December, we can say generally that we always expect application volumes will increase ahead of any major change,” Ms. Lessard said.
Ms. Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer, was arrested on Dec. 1, sparking one of the worst crises in Canada-China relations in decades as the United States seeks her extradition on fraud charges. Chinese authorities have detained two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, both accused of endangering Chinese national security – and sentenced a third, Robert Schellenberg, to death after a single-day retrial on drug-trafficking charges.
Anger on both sides of the Pacific has led to heated comments in both Ottawa and Beijing, stirring worry the dispute could take an economic toll at a time the federal government has sought to expand trade with China.
Over all, in 2018, Canada “issued nearly 593,000 temporary resident visas to Chinese nationals, an increase of 8.4 per cent over 2017,” said Brianna Lessard, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
The December numbers also do not capture the effect of a Chinese travel warning about Canada issued in mid-January. Statistics for that month are not yet available.
But travel agents in China say they have seen no sign that diplomatic tensions are scaring Chinese travellers away from Canada.
“I don’t think the number of people who want to immigrate or travel to Canada has really changed,” said Huang Zhen, a visa consultant at Beijing Shougang International Tourism Co.
For those interested in travelling to Canada, “politics is never the top concern, Ms. Huang added.
Other travel agencies in China similarly said they could discern no effect from the diplomatic tensions.
“Things are the same as they were before. There has been no decrease in inquiries or trip orders,” said a person in the Canada service department at Shanghai Huaxia International Travel Service Co., who gave only his surname, Chen.
With reporting by Alexandra Li