When visitors seeking to develop trade links are turned down, they likely to go elsewhere: critics
BY GORDON HAMILTON, VANCOUVER SUN NOVEMBER 26, 2011
When an uncle of Vancouver resident Wendy Wang told her that he was interested in coming to Canada to develop trade links with the B.C. forestry sector, she offered to help any way she could.
He planned on beginning his business trip by attending an international forestry conference at the University of B.C. Wang registered him and UBC sent an official letter inviting him - a requirement to receive a temporary visa.
But when her uncle applied for a visa through the Canadian government's Beijing office, he was turned down.
The reason? The Canadian official who processed his application was not satisfied he would return to China at the end of his stay.
Both Wang and her uncle were shocked, Wang said in an interview, adding that he is a well-established business person whose interest is in building commercial links outside China.
He owns sawmills and manufacturing plants in the northern city of Suifenhe and has investments across the region in hotels and transportation.
He believes there is opportunity for investment in Canada, and Wang said he wanted the chance to make personal connections with people in the B.C. forestry sector.
"If you don't come to a country and see the skills that they have, how do you build a business relationship?" Wang asked. "It is important to meet people so you can trust each other."
Wang's story is not unique. There are enough anecdotal reports of Chinese business visitors to Canada having difficulty in getting their visas that Pat Bell, British Columbia's jobs, tourism and innovation minister, views it as a threat to the province's China strategy.
The Vancouver Chinese consulate views visa rejections as an important issue affecting current and future visitors to Canada. An email statement from the consulate said: "The Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulates in Canada pay attention to this problem and are coordinating efforts with the Canadian government to make progresses that could facilitate as well as attract Chinese investors in Canada."
Visa rejections were raised a number of times by Chinese business leaders during Premier Christy Clark's recent Asia tour.
Bell was on the China leg of the tour with Clark. He heard those reports personally and conveyed his concern to Canada's ambassador to China, David Mulroney and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
"It is on our radar screen as a high-priority issue," Bell said in an interview.
"I think this is a very, very critical phase of our strategy to engage with China. If you leave one investor at home in China, the risk associated with that is very high,"
In fact, Canada has left 2,203 business travellers at home during the first six months of 2011. That's the number of applications Citizenship and Immigration Canada (C.I.C.) rejected. It's less than 10 per cent of the 24,474 application C.I.C. received, media spokeswoman Johanne Nadeau said in an email to The Sun.
Except for anecdotes, there is no evidence of Chinese business travellers encountering difficulties, Nadeau said.
"It appears that the vast majority of applicants are not experiencing great difficulty," she said.
"Chinese business visitors already enjoy a visa processing time of five days and an application approval rate of more than 90 per cent. There is little that we could do to improve on that performance."
She also said that in addition to having visa offices in three Chinese cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, C.I.C. also has visa application centres, where applicants can receive administrative help, in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing.
Bell said despite assurances from Canadian officials that the approval rate is high, he still has concerns.
"We certainly heard (visa applications are being rejected) over and over again, so we are concerned," he said.
"I think it is very high stakes. Every country in the world is working in China to increase its profile and to gain traction on their investment opportunities. I think we need to do everything we can to accommodate every Chinese investor who wants to come here."
In the case of Wang's uncle, who wanted to look at business investment opportunities and to seek a new supply of logs and lumber, it may be too late. He is still interested in investing in B.C. but, Wang said, he has changed his strategy from shortterm to long-term.
"Business doesn't wait," she said. "If my uncle can't get a visa, then his business plans in Canada don't go ahead. There are opportunities to invest in other countries."
Visa officers have the power to decide who is eligible for business travel on a case-by-case basis. The most common reason for rejecting an application is that the officer is not satisfied that the applicant will return home to China.
A rejection letter received by The Sun demonstrates the power the visa officer has.
"I am not satisfied that you meet the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act," the letter states. "You have not satisfied me that you would leave Canada at the end of the temporary period if you were authorized to enter. In reaching this decision I considered your ties to your country of residence/citizenship balanced against factors that might motivate you to stay in Canada."
Phebe Chan, an immigration and business lawyer at the Vancouver office of Fraser Milner Casgrain, said in an interview that she hears the story of rejected visitor visa applications quite often from her clients. She is part of a national team at FMC LLP specializing in China business, and the concerns are usually raised as an aside.
"They will frequently ask: 'Is it worth it for us to go through this,'" she said.
The problem, Chan said, is that high net-worth individuals often don't submit requested documents for their visa application, such as their employer's approval letter with position, salary and the date they were hired. Also, there is often no Canadian invitation letter as the Chinese national has yet to do direct business with Canadians.
Underlying the problem, she believes, is misunderstanding by both parties.
"On the visa officer's side, there may be greater than necessary concerns that high net-worth business individuals might choose to remain in Canada during their visit, without their families and without tending to their businesses overseas. At the same time there may be a misunderstanding on the Chinese side that it is more difficult to enter Canada for an exploratory business trip."
Because of the frustrations they experience, and the perceived high rate of visa rejections, she said many business visitors often come simply as tourists to avoid the problem altogether.
"We may be losing business opportunities. A general principle applies: People don't want to go where they don't feel welcome. And business people are inherently intelligent, they only have so much time on their hands to deal with barriers to potential business. At the end of the day, we just need to know why the Chinese business people are being denied."
EXCERPTS FROM A REJECTION LETTER WRITTEN BY A CANADIAN VISA OFFICER TO A CHINESE NATIONAL WISHING TO COME TO CANADA FOR BUSINESS PURPOSES:
I am not satisfied that you meet the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and regulations for the reasons indicated below: You have not satisfied me that you meet the requirements of Regulation 179; that you would leave Canada at the end of the temporary period if you were authorized to enter. In reaching this decision, I considered your ties to the country of residence/ citizenship balanced against factors which might motivate you to stay in Canada.
You have not satisfied me that you would leave Canada at the end of your stay as a temporary resident. In reaching this decision I considered several factors including:
. your immigration status;
. your family in your country of residence;
. purpose of visit;
I am not satisfied that you have a legitimate business purpose in Canada and therefore I do not consider you to be a genuine temporary resident who would leave Canada.
This application is closed and the decision is FINAL. Once an application is refused, it will NOT be reconsidered. Any new information you wish to provide must be submitted with a new application and processing fee. Should you wish to reapply, I would suggest that you do so only if your situation has changed substantively or you have significant new information to submit.
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