For Hong Konger Kasey Xu, her path to stay in Canada hasn’t been an easy one, as she’s faced more fences than others.
Xu said she came to Canada in July 2022 with a temporary three-year open work permit through the federal government’s special scheme for Hong Kong residents to come to the country more easily amid China’s crackdown on the city’s autonomy.
She rushed to apply a few months before she arrived in the country as soon as she realized she would not be eligible again if she applied for the scheme at a later date due to a five-year post-graduate requirement.
Applicants must have graduated from a post-secondary institution within the last five years to apply for a three-year open work permit and work in Canada, the federal government said.
They are eligible for permanent residency after working in this country for at least a year and fulfilling the five-year post-graduate requirement at the time of applying, it said.
Some are now calling on the federal government to expand the policy to allow more people from Hong Kong to qualify, as it is set to expire on Feb. 7.
Beijing imposed a sweeping National Security Law on Hong Kong in July 2020 in response to anti-government protests in 2019. More than 200 people, including opposition activists, politicians, journalists, and protesters, have been arrested for endangering national security.
Canada introduced special pathways for Hong Kongers to come to the country in 2021, including the issue of open work permits and pathways for permanent residency in response to the deteriorating human rights, democracy, and freedom in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The program imposed exemptions for Hong Kongers who graduated from post-secondary studies in the last five years to come and work in the country. Western countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia have also introduced similar schemes for Hong Kongers to stay.
Figures provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) show almost 17,000 have applied for open work permits since the special scheme was announced two years ago, with less than 16,000 seeking study permits.
Humber News spoke to Xu, a woman who came to Canada from Hong Kong, who said she left the city quickly as the situation deteriorated soon after the new law.
“I think the situation in Hong Kong is terrible now,” Xu said. “The city is no longer suitable to live in, such as getting married, giving birth to a child and organizing my family there.
“Hong Kong has no hope anymore,” she said. “I’m ready to start a new life in Canada and contribute my talents to this country’s economy and society.”
But Xu, a 2017 graduate, said the five-year post-graduate requirement had made people like her very confused as that requirement barred them from applying for permanent residency because the five-year period has passed when she can apply.
“I feel like my present situation is floating on the ocean, and I’m lost because there’s no end in sight, she said. “We have been given a lifeboat, but it doesn’t lead us back to the shore, we just keep afloat on the sea without any directions and hopes.”
She said she is now trying to settle in Canada permanently through Express Entry, a path that allows skilled workers to have higher priorities on permanent residence applications.
“I think I’m being left out,” Xu said. “Obviously, there is a flaw in the policy that I’m eligible for the special work permit, and I’m in Canada, but I’m not eligible for permanent residency through the special scheme.”
Anna Victoria Wong, executive director of the nonprofit organization Community Family Services of Ontario, said there was a miscalculation of the policy, as the scheme separated into two phases.
“They probably didn’t think straight that they wanted to keep the requirements consistent, but in fact, they are ruling out a batch of people to apply,” she said.
Wong said many of the 2016 and 2017 graduates are uneasy as there are still uncertainties and anxieties looming among these people who are in the country.
There are also critics who say the scheme’s requirements are too narrow, as there are many still hoping to get out of the city.
Jenny Kwan, MP for Vancouver East and the NDP critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said Ottawa needs to review the program as the program’s limitations barred many Hong Kongers from seeking permanent safety here.
“The scheme is fraught with problems and barriers,” Kwan said. “Many people would have graduated more than five years ago, and they are not able to get into the scheme.”
Kwan said Ottawa should “have a reality check” and overhaul the program by extending the deadline and expanding its eligibility.
“I raised concerns to the minister (Sean Fraser) about the looming deadline,” she said. “The government must make a decision quickly. there will be people left out otherwise.
“The Canadian government said we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Hong Kong,” she said. “If that’s the case, they need to take action, otherwise it’s meaningless, then the policy is not worth the paper that is written on.”
In responding to calls to extend and expand the program to support Hong Kong residents coming to the country, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said Ottawa remains concerned about the situation.
“IRCC continues engage with stakeholders on this issue and monitor the situation actively,” the department said in a statement responding to Humber News. “We cannot speculate on future policy decisions.”
The department said Hong Kong residents no longer able to apply for permanent residency through an expiring special program may be able to apply through a different avenue, including under one of the economic immigration programs or by applying to reunite with a family member through family sponsorship.