'Vancouver is heaven': Why more Hong Kong residents are considering moving to Canada
Mounting political tensions fuelling move across the Pacific, experts say
Just days after Hong Kong erupted into protests over the government's proposed extradition law and increasing Chinese influence over the region last month, resident Chris Ho safely touched down at Vancouver International Airport — with plans to stay in B.C. for good.
"Everyone is really careful in Hong Kong. Whatever you're doing, whatever you're speaking — you're really scared," said Ho. "Since 2003, we've kept fighting on different issues. We fight a lot ... we're so tired."
Ho, 47, was born in Canada but had been living in Hong Kong since 1997, the year control over the former British territory reverted to China. Under the handover agreement struck at the time, the Chinese government promised to allow Hong Kong to keep its different political, economic and legal system until at least 2047 under an approach it called "one country, two systems."
The students and other Hong Kong residents protesting in the streets see the proposed extradition law, which some fear would be used as an excuse to extradite pro-democracy activists and other critics of China to the mainland, as a threat to that autonomy. The bill has been suspended for now, but protesters remain unsatisfied and have escalated their tactics.
The mounting political tensions — as well as the rising cost of living In Hong Kong — have prompted Ho to make a major life change. And he's urging his friends to do the same.
"I always introduce Canada to my friends," said Ho. "I always say Vancouver is the best place to live. Compared to Hong Kong, Vancouver is heaven. Hong Kong is just a place for work."
By his side on the flight to B.C. was his close friend, Chanwing Hong, a Hong Kong resident looking to make the move to Vancouver for the same reasons.
"Maybe I can have a better life in a different place," said Hong, who has applied to immigrate to Canada. "I think I would like it here."
Protests and expensive homes
Stories like Ho and Hong's are far from unique. There are more than 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong, and experts say some are making the move overseas.
According to John Hu, an immigration consultant based in Hong Kong, the high costs of living in the city have long been pushing residents out the door.
But conflict surrounding the controversial extradition legislation has fed a recent surge in prospective immigrants.
"The fugitive bill will actually make people more determined that they have to leave now," said Hu. "There's a big surge of inquiries on a day-to-day basis. We've been doing very good business since June, since all the protests in the streets."
Hu says migration orders at his agency have doubled from 30 to about 60 per month and expects a similar trend at other offices.
For several decades, Vancouver has been a destination for residents leaving Hong Kong. According to 2016 census data, 74,125 people in Metro Vancouver immigrated from Hong Kong.
Macdonald Realty president Dan Scarrow says it's hard to quantify exactly how the trend has changed since the extradition bill was introduced but notes there's been a noticeable uptick in prospective homebuyers from Hong Kong since mid-June.
"It's going to take a while for that data to flow through the system, but it was really noticeable among our agents over the last couple of weekends," he told CBC News. "What we're seeing now is a fourth wave of Chinese immigration to Canada."
"Most people in Hong Kong probably have a connection to Canada already, and it's those people that are potentially going to be coming back quickly."
Too early to tell
Immigration lawyer Will Tao says there's a lack of data to clearly identify how many people might be relocating to British Columbia's Lower Mainland, but Vancouver has long been a particularly desirable location for immigrants from an array of countries and regions.
"Our winters aren't that extreme. Our summers aren't too hot," said Tao. "Vancouver has a more liberal and open society where there's very progressive individuals, and if you want to get involved in conservative circles, there's that too."
Tao says the immigration process can be difficult for Hong Kong residents without Canadian passports but expects that migration rates will increase over the long term, particularly among international students.
"This could be something where you see parents send the students over to Canada for a shorter-term period ... but ultimately when they grow up, they'll have the decision to choose where they want to live and work," said Tao.