Ottawa opens arms to Chinese students, tourists and workers

August 9, 2016

By Nathan Vanderklippe, Globe and Mail |

Eager to woo waves of new Chinese students, temporary workers and travellers, Ottawa is petitioning Beijing to triple the number of cities where people can apply for Canadian visas.

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expected in China at month’s end for his first state visit, the Liberal government is trying to pry open a larger door to Chinese visitors that can swell university enrolments, place foreign talent in high-tech jobs and bring in new investment cash – even if that means adding to housing demand at a time of overheated home prices.

John McCallum, Canada’s minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, landed in Beijing Sunday for meetings with senior Chinese officials at the country’s ministries of foreign affairs and public security. He asked for approval to quickly open new visa application centres in five secondary Chinese cities: Chengdu, Nanjing, Wuhan, Jinan and Shenyang. Those could open as soon as next year.

Canada also wants a further five locations in the future to smooth the path for Chinese to come to Canada, and is asking for additional air links between the two countries.

Chinese already form the biggest group of temporary visitors to Canada, including some 120,000 students now in the country.

“But we want to get it even bigger,” Mr. McCallum said in an interview in Beijing Tuesday.

The Liberal government wants “the highest growth we can of tourists coming to Canada, of qualified foreign students who want to study in Canada. If that’s a doubling [in numbers], that’s great.”

He described Chinese officials as “actively on board” with the idea.

Mr. McCallum’s visit suggests ambitious new Chinese visitor goals will form an important element of the planned Trudeau trip to China.

China, in exchange, has sought to have Canada join its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, launch talks toward a free-trade agreement and begin work toward an extradition treaty, to send back people Beijing calls fugitives, many accused of corruption.

But the Trudeau government has shown little appetite for a free-trade deal. It has also rejected formal extradition proceedings so long as China maintains the death penalty, Mr. McCallum said. In meetings Tuesday with China’s vice-minister for public security, he nonetheless discussed further “co-operation on this kind of thing, in terms of working with their people on facilitating the return of some [suspected fugitives] without having an extradition treaty.”

The same ministry is responsible for approving new visa application centres, which Canada wants ahead of a 2018 biometric deadline that will require visitors to apply in person. “That means you have to fan out across the country,” Mr. McCallum said.

But the Liberal bid to attract more Chinese workers and students comes as the Canadian economy sheds jobs and critics worry about the influence of foreign investors on fast-rising property prices in cities like Vancouver and Toronto.

Canada’s unemployment rate rose to 6.9 per cent in July. Mr. McCallum, though, said “in some regions and in some industries we have a legitimate need for temporary foreign workers.” He cited fish processing, meat packing and high-tech.

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