By Nono Shen
Vancouver resident Calvin Wong says he can finally start picturing a future in Canada after the federal government announced it was dropping educational requirements for Hong Kongers seeking permanent residency in the wake of the Chinese city’s crackdown on dissent.
Wong, 28, had graduated from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology with a computer science degree in 2017 before moving to Canada on a work permit in 2021, looking for a life where he could enjoy “political freedom.”
But immigration pathways for Hong Kong residents that have allowed thousands to settle permanently in Canada excluded Wong because it has been more than five years since he graduated.
That will change from August 15, after Ottawa announced on Tuesday it would remove all educational requirements for people with at least a year of work experience in Canada.
Flood of inquiries
Immigration consultants say the move effectively opens pathways for Hong Kongers of all ages, instead of the current focus on students and recent graduates. They said they had been flooded with inquiries since the announcement.
“It’s a very great move by the Canadian government and I can eventually get permanent residence here, contribute and live in Canada safely,” said Wong, his voice breaking with emotion.
The store clerk said the chance to secure permanent residency came as a “huge relief,” and his decision to move to Canada was something he would “never regret.”
In 2021, the federal government created two immigration pathways for Hong Kong residents who had either worked or studied in Canada.
The pathways were in response to a crackdown on political dissent after protests drew millions onto Hong Kong’s streets in 2019, followed by the introduction of a harsh new national security law in 2020.
Stream A applies to former Hong Kong residents who graduated from a post-secondary institution in Canada within three years. People with at least one year of work experience in Canada who graduated from a foreign or Canadian institution within five years could apply for Stream B.
The changes open up Stream B to anyone with a year of work experience in Canada, regardless of education.
Sean Fraser, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, said the change was a “win-win situation.”
“(It) means that we can welcome more Hong Kongers to Canada who need our support, while simultaneously helping Canadian businesses fill labour gaps with workers who already have work experience here,” he said in a statement.
The announcement by Fraser’s ministry said Canada “continues to stand by Hong Kong residents, and supports their freedom and democracy.”
Canada has welcomed 3,122 permanent residents under the two pathways as of April 30, 2023.
Wong said that being excluded under the current rules had left him depressed.
“I felt it was really difficult to plan my future at that time. I was thinking: where should I go? Should I try my best to stay in Canada or go to the United Kingdom?” said Wong.
Wong said he can now make plans for the future and would submit his immigration application as soon as he completes his one year of work experience in Canada.
Graduation time limits had set a bar: Consultant
Vancouver-based Immigration consultant Peter Pang said the move is a “huge change,” opening up more opportunities to Hong Kongers to contribute to Canada.
Richmond, B.C., immigration consultant Ken Tin Lok Wong said that while the current rules do not ban older people, the time limits since graduation had effectively set a bar.
To have graduated in the past five years generally meant applicants to Stream B were not particularly old, and were “of working age,” he said.
Wong said he had some clients who were ready to pack their bags and leave Canada. But they now felt like they had “hit the jackpot.”
“The announcement feels like Canada is helping to retain Hong Kongers regardless of their education,” he said.
“So, if you happen to be a legal worker in Canada, if you happen to obtain one year of work experience, then you are through.”
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