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Immigration Incentive Package : Canada Seeking to Attract Rich Hong Kong Chinese

August 25, 1986|KENNETH FREED | Times Staff Writer

VANCOUVER, Canada — Lee Ron Bick was hardly made welcome when he came to Canada from Hong Kong 78 years ago. He had to pay a $500 head tax for the privilege of doing work that white Canadians scorned, and the government refused his wife entry for 13 years in hopes that he would return to Asia.

If there was anything unusual about Lee's situation, it was that he got into Canada at all. Asians were never really accepted in the first half of this century. From 1923 to 1947, only 24 Chinese were allowed into the country.

Lee, who came as a laborer, stayed in spite of the government. His wife eventually joined him, and Lee, now 94, became a respected and successful businessman.

Coming to Canada is different today, particularly for Chinese from Hong Kong, the British colony on the southern coast of China that is scheduled to be returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Edward Wang is a good example. When he arrived here early this year, he was welcomed with more than just open arms. He received immediate landed immigrant status--the equivalent of a U.S. green card--a process that usually takes three years. He also received the promise of a speeded-up citizenship process and the offer of all sorts of help in settling in.

Canada's attitude toward Asian immigrants has changed for the better as part of a general liberalizing of attitudes toward all foreigners that began in the 1960s. But the main reason for the difference between Lee's welcome and Wang's is money. Wang has lots of it.

With the fear and uncertainty caused by the impending takeover of the capitalist colony of Hong Kong by a Communist government in 11 years, Wang and other wealthy Hong Kong Chinese have been seeking haven for themselves, their families and their fortunes. And governments the world over have been seeking ways to draw that money their way, if not the people with it.

Money the Key

For its part, Canada has put together an immigration incentive package so liberal that it might make a college athletic recruiter envious. But just as the high school athlete has to have talent to be courted, so the potential immigrant from Hong Kong has to have money.

For those with a net worth of at least $365,000 who promise to invest at least $183,000 in Canada within a three-year period, immediate landed immigrant status is provided, with full citizenship to follow when the investments are completed.

Wang, 42, would not say how much he brought to Canada or what he put the money into, but he acknowledged, "I don't really work--just watch after my accounts and make sure my (apartment) building does OK." Other immigration rules for not-so-wealthy people who can provide business, cultural or other expertise also have been liberalized to attract Hong Kong residents, although they do apply to immigrants from elsewhere.

Until the new regulations were initiated, starting in 1976, a Hong Kong resident came in under a restrictive geographic quota for all of Asia and had to have close relatives in Canada and meet stringent requirements about hiring and job creation. For those without the money and skills that Canada wants, or close family ties, the door still is essentially barred.

U.S. Remains Goal

The United States, with its huge, well-off population and large investment base, remains the No. 1 goal for those leaving Hong Kong, but its immigration rules are much less liberal. Consequently, Canada now runs a comfortable second and is moving up, far ahead of Britain and Australia, the third- and fourth- most-favored destinations.

Starting in 1975, when there was only $34 million in direct investment from Hong Kong, the figures have grown in staggering amounts. According to Holger Kluge, vice president for Asia of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, a major foreign institution in the Far East, "Canada has benefited to the tune of at least $5 billion."

Kluge breaks it down this way: at least $2 billion in U.S. dollar bank accounts in Canada, another $2 billion in real estate and the rest in various commercial enterprises.

Officials at Investment Canada, the government agency that works with foreign investments, confirm those figures and add that the total could be even higher, since immigrants are not required to notify the government of new transactions once they meet the minimum requirements.

More Money Available

Kluge, who recently moved to Toronto after six years of running the Bank of Commerce's Hong Kong operation, says there is much, much more that he and other Canadians want to see come their way.

"There are 1,300 families (in Hong Kong) that have net values of $125 million," he said in an interview, "and 150,000 individuals who are millionaires in U.S. terms, although not all of that is liquid."

Another 20% of Hong Kong's 5 million people may have sufficient assets to qualify for emigration to Canada, he said.

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