Aaron D’Andrea Global News February 6, 2023
Ottawa has extended and expanded a work permit program for Hong Kong residents seeking jobs in Canada as advocates warned thousands could be shut out with its expiry.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced Monday that the federal government was extending the application deadline for the temporary three-year open work permit to Feb. 7, 2025. It was set to expire Tuesday.
Fraser also said Ottawa was expanding eligibility to Hong Kong residents who have graduated within the past 10 years from a post-secondary learning institution in Canada or abroad. Previously, applicants had to have graduated within the past five years.
The announcement comes after Global News reported last month that advocates urged the federal government to extend the program and address the challenges posed by the criteria for applicants who have graduated within five years.
“Extending the open work permit public policy also means that spouses, common law partners and dependent children of Hong Kong residents can also apply for a study or work permit in Canada, resulting in even more workers for employers to hire and more people coming to our communities,” Fraser said.
“To make sure that business owners in Canada can hire the workers that they need to sustain our economy, we need to continue to bring in more newcomers.”
Ottawa’s Hong Kong work permit policy was rolled out in February 2021, two years after China further tightened its grip over the former British territory.
In the summer of 2019, protests erupted in Hong Kong over a now-axed bill that extradited suspects to China, which undermined Hong Kong’s judicial independence. What followed was the introduction of what Beijing calls a national security law in June 2020 that led to the arrest of political dissidents, lawyers and journalists.
The national security law in Hong Kong, which is still in effect, has very broad definitions that criminalize “secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.”
Ottawa announced its commitment to set up an immigration program for Hong Kongers to settle in Canada in November 2020. Shortly after the work-permit program rolled out, the federal government announced two new pathways to permanent residency for Hong Kongers in June 2021.
The two pathways are commonly known as Stream A and Stream B. With Stream A, applicants must have graduated from a Canadian post-secondary institution within the last three years. For Stream B, they must have worked in Canada for at least a year and have graduated within the last five from either a Canadian post-secondary institution or a foreign equivalent.
Those who applied for an open work permit are directed to go through Stream B, but the requirement for applicants to have graduated within the last five years meant by the time someone on the open work permit applied for that permanent residency option, they might have aged out of that criterion.
Advocates who spoke to Global News last month pleaded with Ottawa to extend and modify the work permit program.
Katherine Leung, Canadian policy adviser for U.K.-based NGO Hong Kong Watch, told Global News that the five-year graduation limit was “a very technical bug in the policy.”
“Let’s say someone graduated between 2016 to 2017, they get the open work permit, come to Canada, work for a year, and if we add in the amount of time it takes to get settled to find work and complete paperwork, it’s going to exceed the five-year limit for Stream B,” Leung said.
Tom Kmiec, Conservative MP and immigration critic, said in a statement on Facebook that Ottawa shouldn’t have waited until the day before the program expired to announce the changes.
“The amount of stress and uncertainty these individuals have gone through due to this government’s lack of action is big,” he said.
“We are glad the government listened to us to extend and expand the program. Their snail-pace approach is giving Canada a terrible reputation on the international stage.”
Fraser said the policy changes were a result of community feedback.
“We wanted to see more people become eligible for the program and give them more time to apply. We believe it’s the right thing to do for people who seek entry into Canada on an open work permit, but to my earlier point, we also believe it serves Canada’s self-interest,” he said.
“This means that Hong Kong residents will have the opportunity to come to Canada and gain valuable work experience and perhaps even make their home permanently here in Canada over time, through some of those already existing permanent residency pathways I’ve discussed.”
Ottawa has stressed the importance of immigration to fill gaps in the labour market.
According to the government, immigration accounts for almost 100 per cent of Canada’s labour force growth. Roughly 75 per cent of Canada’s population growth comes from immigration, mostly in the economic category.
By 2036, Ottawa says immigrants will represent up to 30 per cent of Canada’s population, compared with 20.7 per cent in 2011.
By 2025, the federal government wants to see 500,000 people arrive in Canada per year, Fraser revealed on Nov. 1, 2022. Ottawa envisions an increase in immigrants that will see 465,000 people arrive in 2023, rising to 500,000 in 2025, with a heavy emphasis on admitting people based on work skills or experience.