Shifting Dreams

Jun 10, 2009
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According to the Migration Policy Institute, a US-based think tank on international movement of people, there were an estimated 33 million ethnic Chinese living outside China, Taiwan and Hong Kong by early 2000.

This number had jumped from 22 million in 1985 and from 12.7 million in the 1960s. As overseas Chinese tend to have low birth rates, the Institute says, it suggests the majority of this migration is believed to have come from the Greater China area.

Population figures collected by the Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalization and Poverty in the UK show that by around the year 2000, the US had the largest number of ethnic Chinese immigrants of all countries: about 1.6 million (Table 1). Canada follows closely at around 660,000.

However, with the US census totalling 281.4 million in 2000, Chinese immigrants account for only 0.5% of the total population and 4.8% of the total foreign-born population (Table 2). Canada, with barely one-tenth of the US population, has a much higher proportion of Chinese immigrants over total foreign born population (12%) as well as over the total population (2.1%). If all ethnic Chinese (including immigrants and local-born) are included in the formula, the percentage of Chinese climbs to 3.7% (Table 3).

Not only has Canada a much higher Chinese immigrant to population ratio, the majority of them arrived shortly after 1987. One can only imagine the culture shock this sudden and rapid wave of immigration brought.

Immigration from Hong Kong to Canada has been quite steady since Canada adopted the “points system” in 1967 (calculating the number of “points” based on language, experience and education of the applicant). Immigration data by Canada’s department of citizenship and immigration suggests that between 1971 and 1987, there were an average of 7,700 immigrants landing in Canada from Hong Kong each year a total of 124,587 during the entire period implicating the “push” factor for out-migration of Hong Kongers as a result of the political instability during the late 1960s (when China underwent the Cultural Revolution) and the economic turbulence during the early 1970s.

However, it was really the Hong Kongers’ fear of China taking over the island’s sovereignty in 1997 that drove the well-documented massive exodus, with Canada and Australia the biggest recipients of this wave of rich, educated and elite Hong Kong immigrants. The height of Hong Kong’s out-migration to Canada occurred between 1990 and 1997 at an average of over 33,000 a year. The exodus quickly levelled out after 1997, when it seemed China was keeping Hong Kong a highly autonomous area. In total, 339,019 immigrants from Hong Kong landed in Canada between 1987 and 2006 (Table 4).

There was also a brief spike of Taiwanese immigrants after the People’s Republic shot a few test missiles over the Taiwan Strait in 1996. However, the scale cannot be compared with that of the Hong Kong exodus or the later mainland Chinese emigration. Between 1987 and 2006, the number of Taiwanese immigrants was 106,435, one-fourth that of Hong Kong and mainland China.

Then it came to the mainland Chinese. China had taken over Hong Kong as the leading source of immigrants for Canada since 1998. The growth of the mainland Chinese immigrants has been particularly rapid, rising from 13,291 in 1995 (the year Canada’s full immigration processing began in China) to 40,465 in 2001. This represents a three-fold increase in just six years. By the end of 2006, the population of PRC immigrants had caught up with the Hong Kongers, with each group standing at about 450,000.

Unlike their Hong Kong predecessors, the single most critical issue facing the mainland Chinese immigrants is employment as their education credentials are not recognized in Canada. Some Canadian immigrants service agencies estimate that 40% of recent mainlanders fail to find work related to their training.

Also unlike the Hong Kong and Taiwanese immigrants, many of whom planned a return after securing their Canadian passports, immigrants from China “usually made that decision in Canada after migration when they had a clearer picture of Canada’s employment conditions,” states a UBC study by Sin Yih Teo.

In other words, many more mainland immigrants suffer from broken dreams and despair. A few high-profile suicides in Toronto committed by highly educated mainlanders (at least with a PhD or double PhD) who failed to get jobs that matched their qualifications best demonstrates the extreme frustration of this group.

It is against such a background that Chen Weiping decided to form the first Chinese Canadian political party to fight for better employment for immigrants.