Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Canadian expats risk becoming 'second-class' citizens: study

Canadian expats risk becoming 'second-class' citizens: study
Duncan Mavin, Hong Kong, Financial Post
Published: Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ottawa must do more to build ties with Canadians living abroad or risk losing the economic benefit of the country's large, educated, and sometimes influential, overseas population, according to a report from a think-tank on Canada's relations with Asia.

"As we have come to accept that overseas affiliates of Canadian corporations are net overseas assets that can generate long-term benefits for the country, now we need to consider the Canadian diaspora as a long-term asset to be cultivated, not spurned," said Kenny Zhang, of the Vancouver-based Asia-Pacific Foundation.

Comments: Alarmist talk? Second-class citizens? What about the million British passport holders in Hong Kong who had their citizenship revoked? As for native born Canadians living and working abroad I can attest that second-class treatment of general arts majors graduating from Canadian universities might have a strong claim regarding their skill sets in Canada. My most recent research of Canadian affiliates of Canadian corporations operating abroad revealed their lack of even moderate levels of self-promotion either through Canadian embassies abroad or local advertising abroad. Wherever they may be they appear to desire low levels of visibility and provide few opportunities for employing Canadian expats abroad.

Mr. Zhang and his colleagues have found that Canadian tax, citizenship and voting rules contribute to a sense that there is a two-tier system that disadvantages Canada's expats.

Different rules "have in fact created two groups of Canadians: 'full fledged' Canadians residing in Canada and 'lesser' Canadians, or foreigners with Canadian passports, living abroad," he said in the report.

There are 2.7-million Canadians living overseas - proportionately more Canadians live abroad than citizens of the U.S., Australia, India or China - including some influential and successful businesspeople with strong ties to Canada.

In Hong Kong, for instance, telecoms billionaire Richard Li sits on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council and is well-known for his progressive views on the territory's move toward democracy. Mr. Li is also a regular visitor to Canada, where he began his working career with investment dealer Gordon Capital, and his philanthropy includes a $1-million donation to the Canadian National Arts Centre Foundation.

In nearby Macau, University of Toronto grad Lawrence Ho, the so-called "Prince of Macau" runs much of that city's gambling business, and has also been the recipient of numerous Asian business awards. Elsewhere, Canadian Don Lam of Vinacapital is the guru on investing in Vietnam.

But there are also many others who are often highly-skilled, and well connected to international networks of trade and commerce. The Asia Pacific Foundation found for instance that Canadians moving to Hong Kong are heavily concentrated among young people in professional positions or higher-level managerial jobs.

The Foundation's research indicated that the policy issues related to having so many Canadians living abroad extends into consular affairs, trade, innovation, health and finance.

Of particular current concern is a new law, set to come into affect in April that will prevent children born to or adopted by Canadians outside the country from passing citizenship on to their children if they are also born abroad - in other words children born to naturalized Canadians would not have the same citizenship rights as children of those born in Canada.

The new rules "will create a two-tiered system with children born or adopted overseas relegated to an 'inferior' class of citizenship," Mr. Zhang said. The controversy over the new legislation has been front page news in the main English language newspaper in Hong Kong where there are about a quarter of a million Canadian passport holders.

Commentary: How many of these are former British passport holders? Why does the Asia Pacific Research Foundation appear to focus on Hong Kong or Macau related issues? Why are Canadian expatriate teachers and other professionals not mentioned in relation to this issue? Where are the statistics describing percentages of Canadian university graduates who eventually become Canadian non-residents?

Suggestions in the Asia Pacific Foundation's report include that Canadians abroad should be consulted on changes to immigration and citizenship rules, and that consideration should be given to having a member of parliament to represent the interests of the approximately 9% of Canadians living overseas.

Commentary: An itinerant Member of Parliament? The world will become one unique Canadian constituency?

In a separate report last month, the Foundation also urged Ottawa to "embrace Chinese transnationalism."

Commentary: Is the Asia Pacific Foundation's principle interest Chinese transnationals?

"Canada will lose out in the global quest for talent in the knowledge-based economy unless it updates some of its ideas and policies on immigration," the report said.

Commentary: Canada will lose out? Canada HAS lost out into untold billions of lost income especially in its non-competitive position on transnational and distance learning educational franchises globally but especially in Asia. A Pan-Asian dialogue approach which capitalizes on the skills and experiences of Canadian expat professionals regardless of their ethnic origins and rather than a single issue foundation focus perhaps a global transnational Canadians focus in Asia would benefit all Canadians present here in Asia rather than a few Chinese transnationals in Hong Kong or Macau.

Highly-skilled Chinese-Canadians are likely to return to their country of origin unless Canada can provide attractive career opportunities to match those in China, the report warned. Ottawa should also review taxation policies, rules on intellectual property rights and citizenship, to try to foster better relationships with Chinese-Canadians that return to China for work.

Commentary: While I am happy to see any improvements which can be made in Canada's resourceful approach to capitalizing on its expat populations in Asia, I cannot speak for Chinese transnationals regarding any of their threats to revoke their own citizenship rights or Canadian passports. Personally I wouldn't leave home without it and you would have to wrestle me to the ground before I would give it up voluntarily. I have seen and I have learned. In my opinion this would be the difference between Canadians in Asia and Canadian wannabes without a global and multicultural approach to Asia or Canada for that matter. No where in the article is the report or author of it even named.

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