OTTAWA -- In light of China’s ongoing crackdown on democracy, the federal government is offering new immigration programs aimed at attracting young people from Hong Kong to Canada, and is promising to expedite paperwork for Canadians living there to come home.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino made the announcement on Thursday, saying that he remains “deeply concerned” about the imposition of a sweeping national security law that’s prompted large pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

In an effort to attract students and youth, Canada will be offering a new expedited three-year open work permit to recent Hong Kong graduates and those with essential work experience who want to come to Canada to continue their studies or find employment. Eligible applicants are those who have graduated from a recognized post-secondary institution in the last five years, and their spouses and children will also be eligible to seek permanent Canadian residency.

There will also be two new streams to permanent residency for “the best and the brightest” Hong Kong residents already in Canada who have graduated with a degree in the last three years, and for those with recent degrees and a year of full-time work experience in Canada who want to come back here, once the existing COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted.

Mendicino said the first applicants could be eligible to come to Canada in “early 2021.”

These new measures come on the heels of China removing four democratically elected lawmakers from office in Hong Kong, which Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has called “a further assault on Hong Kong’s high degree of freedoms.”

In a statement Champagne called it a “concerning disregard” for Hong Kong’s autonomy and said Canada stands with the people of Hong Kong.

“We are deeply disappointed that China has chosen to break its international obligations,” the foreign affairs minister said.

In response to the legislation, Canada has frozen its extradition treaty and revised its Hong Kong travel advice, but has yet to move to offer a more widespread asylum stream or expedite asylum claim approvals to Hong Kong residents looking to leave.

Mendicino said that pro-democracy protesters are able to claim asylum or apply to other Canadian immigration programs so long as they have not committed any crime that would be recognized by Canadian law.

“We remain very concerned with the situation in Hong Kong and as I said, that is very much the backdrop to this announcement today, but at the same time what we are highlighting is that in these new immigration routes, we see a silver lining. A silver lining for young Hong Kongers who may wish to come work in Canada, study in Canada, bring their families in Canada and build a better life in Canada,” Mendicino said.

However, Alliance Canada Hong Kong's Cherie Wong told CTV News that when protesters are arrested in Hong Kong, their travel documents are often confiscated so additional resources may be needed to help eligible applicants leave.

“I fear for the safety of a lot of folks, my frontline activist friends, my fellow Canadians in Hong Kong and in China,” she said. “I think today is a great example that Canada has taken a strong step in protesting what China has been doing to Hong Kong, but it is only one first small step and we have more to do.”

From the perspective of Vivian Tam, a Canadian professor living in Hong Kong, every day the situation gets “a little bit worse.”

She said that she has peers who are looking to get out of Hong Kong and are assessing the offerings from the U.K. and Canada, and right now the U.K. is processing applications faster.

Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho echoed this, saying in a statement that Canada should “put in place a clear, expedited path for pro-democracy protestors and political refugees fleeing Hong Kong.”

“Canada needs to do more than offer Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists an economic immigration system crippled by years-long backlogs and beset by ongoing delays because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dancho said.

But immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges is questioning the rationale behind the federal government’s decision to target these programs at younger, highly-educated foreign nationals.

“There are all around the world various situations where people are under threat of political persecution or other very serious situations, and why do we have a special program for Hong Kong that exists only for these people as opposed to a broader program that might help people from other countries?” she said.

“What is so special about the situation in Hong Kong that is compelling the government to take this exceptional measure?” asked Desloges.


These measures come in addition to a promise of expediting document application such as family sponsorship for Canadians currently living in Hong Kong who want to come home.

The minister emphasized in his announcement that Canadians and Canadian permanent residents in Hong Kong can return to Canada at any time, and family members in Hong Kong of Canadians and Canadian permanent residents can also travel to Canada under the current compassionate exemptions to travel restrictions, though they must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Ottawa’s top diplomat in Hong Kong told MPs on the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on Nov. 2 that the federal government had made preparations to evacuate some 300,000 Canadian citizens out of Hong Kong should the situation worsen.

“We have detailed plans in place, and we have resources available and identified to cover a range of situations up to and including a situation where the urgent departure of a large number of Canadians would be necessary,” Jeff Nankivell, Canada’s consul general in Hong Kong and Macau said.


In a separate press conference where Canadian politicians focused in on the situation in China, MPs on the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights, discussed a report they recently put out on the situation of the Uyghurs in China, saying they felt it was important for Canadians to be aware of what has been occurring.

In its findings released on Oct. 21, the committee unanimously agreed the actions of the Chinese government constitutes a genocide of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang through mass detentions, forced labour, state surveillance, and imposed population control.

“This is a non-partisan issue, this is a humanitarian issue, this is an issue of genocide, of crimes against humanity,” said Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi.

The MPs warned in the report that “if the international community does not condemn the human rights abuses in Xinjiang province by the Government of China, a precedent will be set, and these methods will be adopted by other regimes.”

Last month during a press conference reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of now-strained diplomatic relations between China and Canada, China’s Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu cautioned the federal government about interfering in internal Chinese affairs.

With files from CTV News’ Solarina Ho