COVER

FINDING A NEW LIFE

Chinese immigrants flock to Canada for security

TOM FENNELL May 10 1993
COVER

FINDING A NEW LIFE

Chinese immigrants flock to Canada for security

TOM FENNELL May 10 1993

FINDING A NEW LIFE

Chinese immigrants flock to Canada for security

In a rundown warehouse in Toronto’s old Chinatown, puffs of hot air swirl around dozens of Chinese men operating giant steam irons. One floor above, amid the hum and rattle of their sewing machines, more than 50 Chinese women rapidly stitch together slacks and business jackets. Unlike the wealthy Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan, who have pumped billions of dollars into the Canadian economy in return for visas, the people toiling at Ling May Fashion Contractors Inc. are from mainland China. Like many of the workers at Ling May, Bing Chung, 27, had few possessions when she arrived from Canton in 1982. And like the thousands of Chinese immigrants who came before her, and who are now an increasingly vital part of Canadian society, Chung said that she found the adjustment difficult and the work even tougher. “It was very hard at first,” said Chung. “We have to struggle to stay in Canada.”

Of the 252,175 people who received landed immigrant status in Canada in 1992, one-fifth came from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. And the positive impact of Chinese immigration is apparent in almost every corner of Canada. In Alberta, Hong Kong investors have poured millions of dollars into the province’s energy sector. In Vancouver, new arrivals are revitalizing the downtown core. In Toronto, five Chinatowns now exist and the annual Dragon Ball has become a major social event. As well, many Chinese Canadians are now rising to prominence. In 1988, Vancouver businessman David Lam’s contribution to his province was recognized when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed him as lieutenant-governor (see box). And in 1990, Susan Eng was named chairman of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Board, one of the hottest politi-

cal posts in Canada. Eng says that her generation is finding increasing acceptance in Canada. “Chinese people have gotten ahead by sheer hard work in the past,” said Eng. “But we are now getting ahead in areas like politics.” Despite the growing success of members of the Chinese communities, many newcomers find that adjusting to life in their adopted country can be a wrenching experience. Family fortunes have all but disappeared in the North American real estate collapse and other immig grants say that they have lost á money in illegal immigration I schemes. As a result, says I Daniel Hung, president of 1 the Hong Kong-Canada Buslij iness Association, and man5 aging director of a Toronto development firm, Shiu Pong Group Ltd., many overqualified Chinese immigrants have been trapped in lowpaying jobs.

Still, even with such daunting challenges ahead of them, increasing numbers of Chinese emigrate to Canada each year. From 1982, when 10,673 people from the three countries came to Canada,

the total almost doubled to 20,262 in 1987 and more than doubled again to 55,118 in 1992. The rush to Canada from Hong Kong is expected to accelerate if political restrictions appear likely with the return of that British colony to China in 1997. Said Jeffrey Le Bane, director of Asian Pacific Immigration for Employment and Immigration Canada in Ottawa: “A lot of people say that 1995 is the year that they will have to make a decision.”

The Chinese have not always been welcome in Canada. In the early 1900s, they had to pay a head tax of $500 to get into the country. As a result, usually only Chinese men could afford to emigrate. And even with the head tax in place, on July 1, 1923, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Mackenzie King replaced the Chinese Immigration Act with legislation that severely limited immigration from China. In 1947, when the legislation was repealed, dozens of families were reunited. For one, Wan Qoi Lim, now 64, had not seen his father since his birth when they finally embraced on Lim’s arrival from Canton in 1950. Lim, who is president of the Toronto Cantonese Society, says that his only recollections of his father during his long absence were the letters he wrote home.

By the 1970s and 1980s, Canada’s immigration policies came full circle with the creation of new business-class programs that offered special immigration status to rich foreign investors. Currently, well over 80 per cent of people entering the country under the business categories are from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Under the Investor Program, potential Canadian citizens with $250,000 to $350,000 to invest in Canada can receive landed immigrant status. As well, under the Entrepreneurial Program, business people who create a company that employs at least one Canadian are eligible for landed immigrant status. According to Immigration Canada, the average Hong Kong immigrant in the two programs has transferred $2.9 million to Canada. In total, Chinese immigrants have transferred well over $10 billion to Canada since the mid-1970s. Wilson Ng, vice-president of marketing for the Canadian Maple Leaf Fund Group Ltd., a Vancouver-based company that has invested more than $130 million on behalf of wealthy immigrants, said that because the Hong Kong economy is booming, many investors have returned to Hong Kong with Canadian passports. But Ng says that Canada will still likely see an increase in affluent immigrants. Said Ng: “They will still want the insurance of a second passport.”

Andrew Chan, of Richmond, B.C., is typical of the wealthy Hong Kong Chinese who are seeking political and economic security in Canada. Chan said that he received his landed immigrant status in 1989, after he placed a large amount of money in a fund that invests in small companies in Manitoba. He said that he decided to relocate his family to Canada because he fears the Communists. Said Chan: “I do not want some unfore-

seen event to hurt my family when the government changes.” As well, many Chinese Canadians who came here as students are now in business and are using Canada as a base from which to expand their operations into southeast Asia. For one, developer Daniel Hung who launched Shiu Pong in the early 1970s has since expanded to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Taipei where he hopes to become a major force in a number of industries. As a result, he travels almost constantly. Said Hung: “A friend of mine wanted to invite my wife and me to dinner, so that we could be together.”

In comparison to immigrants like Hung, recently arrived workingclass Chinese find cause for celebration in merely finding a job. Said Hua Qi Xue, who emigrated from Shanghai in 1989 and who now operates a sewing machine at ling May: “I have to work hard but I have a stable job.” Get Yung Chan, who came from Canton in 1984, works a steam press, and earns about $10 an hour, in the same shop. Like Xue, Chan can barely speak English, but he said: “I’m very, very happy to be here.” While most of the Chinese newcomers settle in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, it is British Columbia’s lower mainland that

has been changed most dramatically because of immigration. The Chinese now make up 32.1 per cent of all new immigrants to Vancouver. And in the first six months of 1992, according to federal government statistics, new in-

vestments and businesses run primarily by Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan contributed $2 billion to the B.C. economy. Their most dramatic impact has been in real estate. One of Hong Kong’s richest developers, Li Ka-shing, is spending $2.5 billion to develop the former Expo 86 lands in the city. But the dramatic influx of Chinese into the lower mainland has not come without controversy. Although rare, anti-Chinese graffiti have appeared across overpasses in the city and even the most tolerant Vancouver residents have expressed concern when wealthy immigrants have ordered the razing of stately old

homes in established Vancouver neighborhoods to make way for larger homes. For his part, Lt.-Gov. David Lam has urged newcomers to be sensitive to the city’s existing culture. But he acknowledged, “The old British Columbia has passed.”

Many other Chinese immigrants who envisaged a bright future in Canada have suffered in the economic recession. Hung said that hard-hit immigrants have even downplayed their résumés in an attempt to get jobs for which they are overqualified. “Not everyone who comes here has deep pockets,” said Hung. “It’s been very hard on some people.” But for most Chinese newcomers, Canada is still the land of hope and promise that it was when the first Asian immigrants arrived more than a century ago.

TOM FENNELL