Chinese association leaders call for more support for PNP businesses
'The government just wants the Chinese people to come here to pay the money'
Paul Yin and Frank Liu think they know why many fellow immigrant investors forfeit their cash deposits and don't set up businesses on P.E.I.
Both businessmen came to the Island through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and have lived here for several years.
"I think there is not enough support from the government on how to support the business ... to run well," said Paul Yin, who used to own Paul's Flowers and now works as a consultant. Liu, a travel agent, provided translation.
Provincial nominee businesses are set up after the would-be immigrants commit to a minimum investment of $150,000 and annual spending of at least $75,000. If companies operate for an agreed period of time, the province may refund the $150,000 business escrow deposit.
Businesses never opened
But, as CBC News recently reported, the P.E.I. government withheld $18 million in PNP deposits from immigrant investors last year.
Among the 177 immigrants in the business-impact category of the PNP, who had their deposit money withheld, the province says the "vast majority" did not open a business on P.E.I., even though that was a key component of their agreement with the province.
Those 177 immigrants represent roughly two-thirds of program participants who were eligible to have their deposits refunded in 2016-17.
Both Yin and Liu are on the executive of the Chinese Canadian Association of P.E.I. and have been trying to help other PNP investors.
"I just feel that the government just wants the Chinese people to come here to pay the money, and they not really [interested] in how the business run well," said Yin, who is president of the association.
"When they come to P.E.I. they already have a proposal for what kind of business they would do. But when they launch in P.E.I. some of them find out the proposal, the business, is not quite enough."
'They just sell the gifts from China'
Jamie Aiken, the executive director of Island Investment Development Inc., which oversees the PNP program, said the business plans are developed in consultation with the applicant, their consultant and a chartered professional accountant.
"When we get an application from an entrepreneur, we have a business plan that's completed, supported by projections by [an accountant] which shows the market research that they've done on that business sector, how that would be viable within our local economy and what steps they're going to take to implement it," Aiken said.
I just feel that the government just wants the Chinese people to come here to pay the money, and they not really [interested] in how the business run well.— Paul Yin
"During our application process, we meet with the applicant here. They do a three-day exploratory visit and at that meeting our staff meet with them and review their business plan to ensure that they feel comfortable with it."
But Liu and Yin say there isn't enough research taking place. Some shops, they say, don't do well because they aren't tapping into the local market.
"When the newcomer comes here they have to know the local culture, the commercial culture, the humanity culture here. So we hope the government will give more advice on how to run a gift shop," said Yin.
"For example, some of Chinese PNP, they just sell the gifts from China … If you go to Paris would you by a pyramid from Egypt? You don't buy."
PNP not achieving 'economic starts' envisioned
Aiken acknowledges some businesses have defaulted, but said Island Investment Development Inc. continues to work with those individuals.
"We're not saying that they cannot be reinstated," he said. "So if they do establish a business thereafter we will reinstate their agreements, work with them and try and help them be as successful as possible."
He also points out that the PNP escrow agreement has two components — the residency component and the business operational component — and says the success of the program can't be measured by looking at just one aspect.
"Of the residency component, we've processed 277 returns or escrow agreements last year. Of that, 271 were residing here after a year," Aiken said.
"So we're seeing positive growth in our retention component. We're continuing to work with them on their business component. It may not be achieving the economic starts that we'd envisioned initially, but they're here. I believe they want to be here. I believe they want to be successful."
They've processed 95 successful applicants so far returning their escrow deposit last year, Aiken said.
"We're seeing very good economic growth here in our province. We're seeing population growth and I think that's attributed to immigration," he said.
Supports provided says province
Both Liu and Lin acknowledge the support of programs offered by the Newcomers Association of P.E.I., Avance Learning Centre and the P.E.I. Connectors Program, which is delivered through the Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce.
We're seeing very good economic growth here in our province. We're seeing population growth and I think that's attributed to immigration.— Jamie Aiken, executive director of Island Investment Development Inc
But Aiken said newcomers are also offered supports by the province.
"As soon as they land in the province, we meet with them individually," he said.
"Then we follow up with an onsite visit if they've opened a business. There is also additional funding for language training and through the department of education for [English] instruction."
Aiken said the PNP approval process has been streamlined, and applicants are now ranked on a variety of criteria including language, education and work experience.
For his part, Liu hopes more Chinese immigrants are encouraged to move to P.E.I.
"It's peaceful and everybody do things not running ... they do it slowly," he said. "I like my life change to slowly."
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With files from The Canadian Press, Kerry Campbell