Skip to navigation

Skip to main content

Migration News

contact us
 

October 1999, Volume 6, Number 10

Canada: Chinese Migrants

Between July and September, 1999, Canadian authorities intercepted four ships each with more than 100 Chinese migrants being smuggled into Canada. Many of them planned to apply for asylum in Canada and then enter the US. US intelligence is supplying some of the information about the location of ships suspected of smuggling immigrants: U.S. Coast Guard ships have intercepted 20 ships carrying undocumented Chinese in U.S. territorial waters around Guam in the past 16 months. Australia intercepted 21 boatloads of illegal migrants, primarily Chinese, in the last six months.

The arrival of the Chinese started a national debate and aroused some hostility—one of the boats was met on a dock in Port Hardy by demonstrators shouting "Send them home!" Canadian authorities were urged by local residents, as well as by the Chinese government, to return the Chinese quickly to China; the Chinese government agreed to accept their return as soon as Canada proved they were Chinese. The Chinese government said that there is "no such thing as political persecution in China," and predicted that if Canada grants asylum to some of the Chinese, more Chinese would try to emigrate.

China's Premier Jiang Zemlin claimed that Canada's lengthy asylum application processes were encouraging Chinese to be smuggled into Canada. According to reports, small Pacific island countries such as Tonga and Nauru are selling passports to Chinese that are then used to try to enter Canada and other countries. Officials of China and Canada in Spring 1999 signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly fight criminal activity, which Canada says would allow it to send police to China to monitor people-smuggling activities there.

Chinese smugglers--called snakeheads for the way they place migrants curled up like snakes under the deck in smuggling ships--recruit migrants in southeastern China, especially Fujian. In recent months, migrants and their relatives have been paying US$35,000 for passage to the US via Canada, with several thousand dollars paid up front, and the balance due on delivery in the US. After recruiting migrants, snakeheads arrange their transport in ships, coach them on how to apply for political asylum on arriving in Canada and then arrange for them to go to the US.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have hired a lawyer to take action over allegations by the Canadian Council for Refugees that they physically abused and verbally intimidated the Chinese in their custody; the RCMP disputes the allegations.

Processing. Using accelerated procedures, Canada's Refugee Board is expected to make decisions by December 1999 on the asylum applications filed by about 600 Chinese who came on the four ships. In the first case considered in September 1999, the application for asylum was rejected. Many Chinese apply for asylum and disappear; arrest warrants were issued for 37 Chinese from the first ship who did not show up for their asylum hearings. According to the Canadian government, the initial cost of providing food and shelter and processing the 600 Chinese migrants was C$2 million, with two-thirds of the cost for immigration personnel.

In Canada asylum seekers are not generally detained, as they are in the United States. Instead, most are given work permits or welfare benefits. One reason the Canadian government does not detain asylum seekers is that it grants refugee status to most of them: 54 percent of the 23,838 asylum applicants in 1998 were accepted as refugees, compared with 35 percent of 57,786 applicants in the US. The 1997 report, "Not Just Numbers: A Canadian Framework for Future Immigration," urged Canada to detain asylum applicants who arrive without documentation and pose a risk of flight; detention, it was argued, would act as a deterrent for false applicants.

However, Canada has begun to detain all Chinese adults who arrive on smuggling boats--429 were detained at the end of September.

Once in New York, their chief destination, unauthorized Chinese women who have children sometimes send them back to China to be raised by relatives because they cannot afford to raise their children in New York while working in the garment industry or restaurants and repaying smuggling debts. The New York Times on September 14, 1999 described several Chinese mothers who had sent their US-born, and thus US-citizen, babies to China because it was too expensive to raise them in New York. It was estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the 1,500 babies delivered at the Chinatown Health Center in 1998 were sent to China.

The new Governor General of Canada—the Queen's representative-- is a Hong Kong-Chinese immigrant. There are about 900,000 Chinese-Canadians in Canada.

Sponsors. Canadian provinces have begun to sue residents who sponsor immigrants who arrive in Canada and obtain welfare. Since 1997, provinces, and not just the federal government, can sue sponsors for welfare payments collected by immigrants they sponsored—sponsorship involves a 10-year pledge to support the newcomers.

Investors. Canada's immigrant-investor program was described by a senior forensic accountant at the World Bank as a "massive fraud" in a report issued in September 1999. The accountant concluded that many who entered as foreign investors, supposedly to put their money in businesses or investment polls which would create or preserve jobs, had, in fact, little money at risk.

Consultants prepared "offering memoranda" that, after approval by provincial and federal governments, were used to solicit investments, usually in Asia. After receiving foreigners' funds, the consultants found Canadian businesses in which to invest; the audit said the middlemen rather than Canada's economy benefited from the program.

Some 16,667 foreigners—80 percent from Hong Kong and Taiwan—became Canadian immigrants after investing C$150,000 to C$400,000 in Canada—the required investment was raised several times, beginning in 1992. Beginning in April 1999, foreign investors must deposit C$400,000 with a provincial government—one report noted that there were no foreign investor visas issued between April and August 1999.

Canada-US Migration. Despite reports of Canadian professors moving to the US for higher salaries and more opportunities, Statistics Canada in a Fall 1998 report found that "there is little statistical evidence in support of a large-scale exodus of knowledge workers from Canada to the United States." Canadian full professors earned an average of US$59,580 in 1998; US full professors earned on average $72,721.

Statistics Canada reported that that 4,600 of 300,000 members of Canada's 1995 graduating class, or 1.5 percent of the total, moved to the United States within two years of graduation, with the highest rates of emigration among those in health, engineering and applied science. About 20 percent of those who left Canada in 1995 had returned by 1997, and half of those in the US in 1997 said they expected to return to Canada eventually.

In 1998, a Canadian refugee board rejected a Czech family's claim that they were Gypsies because the board said they looked more "Pakistani or Turkish." In September 1999, the family won the right to have their ethnicity reassessed. A federal judge ruled that it was "inherently dangerous" to judge an applicant's ethnicity by physical features. The judge added that the refugee board ignored evidence that some Roma clans originated in India and may be dark-skinned. The confusion over the Mitac family's ethnicity might have been avoided, the court noted, if a Gypsy interpreter had been available during the hearing to confirm that the applicants were fluent in the Romany language.

The Toronto Board of Health is asking the Canadian government to help pay for the costs associated with an outbreak of tuberculosis; the Board says the disease is linked to immigration. Between January and July 1999, eight cases of TB were reported among the 340 Tibetan refugees who entered the country; treatment costs C$250,000 a person. A Toronto doctor said that 18 percent of the 60 Tibetans screened have a history of active TB and 92 percent skin-test positive, "which means at least that they have inactive TB."


James Brooke, “Canada Starts to Take Hard Line Against Illegal Chinese Immigration,” New York Times, September 30, 1999. Adrienne Tanner, "Mounties may sue over allegations of abuse," National Post, September 28, 1999. Marina Jimenez, "Ottawa has spent $2-million so far on food, lodging for 600 migrants," National Post, September 24, 1999. Andrew Duffy, "US military helps Canada monitor smuggling ship," National Post, September, 24, 1999. James Rusk, "Immigrants with TB drain health budget," The Globe and Mail, September 22, 1999. Jennifer Lewington, "Canadian Universities Lose Top Professors to U.S. Institutions," Chronicle of Higher Education, September 17, 1999. Andrew Mitrovica, "Immigrant investor plan denounced as massive sham," Globe and Mail, September 15, 1999. Somini Sengupta, "Women Keep Garment Jobs By Sending Babies to China," New York Times, September 14, 1999. "Canada considers sending police to China in effort to stop refugees," CP, September 13, 1999. Jeffrey Gettleman, "Canadians Begin to S