OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Canadian government said on Thursday it would make it easier for Hong Kong youth to study and work in Canada in response to new security rules imposed by China on the former British colony, a move likely to heighten already strained relations with Beijing.
“Today’s announcement is set against the backdrop of a number of developments which have been gravely concerning to Canada,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told Reuters in an interview, citing this week’s move by China to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong.
Any Hong Kong resident who has graduated from university in the past three years can apply to work for up to three years in Canada, and will be offered a way to transition more easily to permanent residency, the minister said.
Canada will also accelerate the processes for “their spouses, their partners and their children to come and build the next chapter in their life”, Mendicino said.
Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. Britain on Thursday said China had broken this treaty when it disqualified elected legislators this week.
Violations of China’s security law, or of any laws that Canada does not itself have on its books, will be disregarded when it evaluates requests for asylum, permanent residency or other permits from Hong Kong and anywhere else, Mendicino said.
China’s envoy to Canada, Cong Peiwu, warned Canada last month against granting asylum to pro-democracy protesters because he said they were “violent criminals” who threatened the “health and safety” of the 300,000 Canadian passport holders living in Hong Kong.
On Thursday, The Chinese embassy in Ottawa had no immediate comment. Study permit applications from Hong Kong are on the rise this year, the minister also said.
“Things are going to get worse, not better” in Hong Kong, Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said, adding that Hong Kong parents should consider sending their children to study in Canada.
After China initially announced it would put new national security legislation in place for Hong Kong in July, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suspended an extradition treaty with the city and banned the export of sensitive military items.
Canada’s relations with China, the world’s second-biggest economy, soured after Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese citizen, was arrested in Vancouver in late 2018 on a bank fraud warrant issued by U.S. authorities.
Soon after, Beijing arrested two Canadian men it said were suspected of espionage, and Meng is now fighting extradition to the United States. China has also suspended most imports of canola.