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Pros and Cons of Canada’s Immigration Response to Developments in Hong Kong

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Two and half years have passed since China’s adoption of a controversial national security in Hong Kong. The national security law, which came into force on June 30, 2020, was an attempt to demonstrate China’s intention to tackle separatism, subversion, terrorism, and collusion, in Hong Kong. The law has been widely protested and critiqued because of (i) the latitude Beijing has given itself to intervene with Hong Kong’s legal affairs; and (ii) the chilling effect of the law which seemingly attempts to silence those with criticism of the Chinese government and those calling for Hong Kong’s independence.

In response to China’s adoption of the national security law, the Government of Canada introduced several immigration initiatives aiming to make temporary and permanent residence in Canada more accessible for citizens of Hong Kong. New programs included:

  • Providing open work permits for up to 3 years in duration for eligible applicants (and their dependents) with recent post-secondary, graduate and/or post-graduate education; and

  • Providing two new pathways for permanent residence for Hong Kong youth in Canada:

    • The first, for those who have graduated from a post-secondary institution in Canada;

    • The second, for Hong Kong residents meeting a minimum level of authorized work experience in Canada, who meet other language and education requirements.

If you are considering accessing one of these programs, it is hoped that this blog will provide you with some guidance regarding the positive and negative aspects of these routes.


Open Work Permits for Hong Kong Recent Graduates

Dates to Apply: February 8, 2021 to February 7, 2025


This program offers a pathway for recent Hong Kong graduates to gain work experience in Canada. The program grants open work permits to those who hold a valid Hong Kong or ‘UK to a British National Overseas’ passport and who have graduated from post-secondary, graduate, or post-graduate studies no more than 10 years before they apply.


Pros:

  • Successful applicants can gain up to 3 years of Canadian work experience, increasing their options for gaining Permanent Residence in Canada.

  • The program also specifically benefits eligible Hong Kong graduates who may not have otherwise been able to obtain a work permit due to past unauthorized work or study in Canada or failures to comply with previous permits. Accordingly, an exemption may be granted to those graduates in Canada allowing them to obtain a work permit.

  • Finally, family members (spouses, common-law partners, and dependents) of eligible graduates who have applied for an open work permit will also be issued open work permits for a period of up to 3-years.

Cons:

  • Those who have graduated before the 10-year window are left out of the program. While the government’s response seeks to balance humanitarian need and Canada’s economic interests, the 10-year window is an arbitrary requirement, limiting skilled workers from working in Canada who may have graduated at an earlier date. It can be noted, however, that the 10-year window is an improvement from the original requirement to have graduated within the 5-years preceding submission of an application.

  • People who are applying based on having diplomas are treated differently than those who are applying based degrees. Those who have diplomas abroad must obtain an Educational Credential Assessment (ECA). In contrast, there is no such requirement for those who have obtained degrees abroad (e.g. associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral) to take this additional, time consuming and expensive step. This distinction appear arbitrary.

    • If seeking to apply for this open work permit based on a diploma, ensure that you obtain an ECA from a designated organization.

  • Though meeting the citizenship and education requirements under this public policy, an individual may still be found medically inadmissible for excessive demand on Canada's health and social services. The humanitarian relief offered by this policy is therefore tempered by such medical inadmissibility concerns.

Pathways for Permanent Residence

Dates to Apply: June 1, 2021 to August 31, 2026


The pathways for permanent residence will also benefit recent graduates holding a Hong Kong or ‘UK to a British National Overseas’ passport. It consists of two streams:


Stream A of the program offers a pathway for permanent residence to those eligible who have graduated from a post-secondary designated learning institute in Canada within the 3 years immediately before their application.


Stream B, alternatively, offers a pathway to permanent residence for those eligible with one year of full-time work experience in Canada in the 3 years preceding their application. Applicants in Stream B must have graduated from post-secondary, graduate, or post-graduate studies no more than 5 years before they apply, whether outside of Canada or in Canada. It remains to be seen whether this 5-year window will increase to 10-years as with the Open Work Permit program.


Pros:

  • Stream B benefits those with full-time work experience in Canada which does not qualify them for permanent residence through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), processed through Express Entry. Those seeking permanent residence through CEC must obtain work-experience in TEER 0,1,2, or 3 job categories under the Canadian National Occupation Classification. By contrast, under Stream B, eligible work experience can be in any skill level.

Cons:

  • As with the Open Work Permit program, those falling outside of the graduation timeframes required for both Stream A and B, will not be able to apply for permanent residence. Consequently, many with Canadian education and employment experience will be arbitrarily left out of the program.

  • It also remains to be seen if a bridging open work permit will be available to applicants throughout the program delivery time (until August 31, 2026). Applicants seeking to work while their permanent residence application is being processed, can now apply for the open work permit formerly discussed, but only until February 7, 2025. Accordingly, IRCC should implement a bridging program for those applying through these pathways after that date.

  • Canada’s response does little to assist those who may be in danger due to China’s national security law but do not meet education or work experience requirements for the new permanent residence pathways. Instead of implementing measures based on a need for protection, Canada has simply indicated that Hong Kong citizens in Canada will have access to Canada’s asylum system.

  • Finally, as with the Open Work Permit program, even if an individual meets the citizenship, education, and work requirements of these pathways they may still be denied permanent residence if found medically inadmissible for placing excessive demand on Canada's health and social services. In contrast, medical inadmissibility rules for excessive demand do not apply to refugees and protected persons.

In summary, the candidates that will most benefit from these programs are recent Hong Kong graduates and their accompanying family members. This includes those who may not have been previously eligible for work permits, due to past unauthorized work or study, and those who may not have qualified for other permanent residence due to the skill level of their employment.


If you are interested in exploring the temporary and permanent residence pathways for residents of Hong Kong, Contact us at reception@migrationlawgroup.com

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