Hong Kong Watch Unite Forces of Canadian Parliament Members to Expand Lifeboat Scheme for More Hongkongers

4,000 Hongkongers did not know they were ineligible to migrate after entering Canada with Open Work Visas
By Jenny Zeng
Jenny Zeng
Jenny Zeng
and Summer Lawson
Summer Lawson
Summer Lawson
March 8, 2023Updated: March 8, 2023

Canada has become one of the popular destinations for Hongkongers to migrate to in recent years. However, as of June 2022, nearly 4,000 Hongkongers did not know they were ineligible to migrate after entering Canada with Open Work Visas (OWP).

Aileeen Calverley, co-founder and trustee of Hong Kong Watch, has been marching through the Canadian Parliament for the past year, attending various meetings and meeting with Congress cross-party members to plead for the Canadian government’s extension and expansion of the lifeboat scheme.

On March 5, Calverly conducted an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times to discuss the proposal of Canada’s lifeboat scheme by Hong Kong Watch and untangle some of the misunderstandings Hongkongers might have regarding the Canadian lifeboat plan.

Epoch Times Photo
Aileeen Calverley (R), co-founder and trustee of Hong Kong Watch, visited Ottawa with its policy consultant Katherine Leung (L) from Oct. 17 to Oct. 20, 2022, to meet with Canadian Congressman Garnett Genius MP (C). (Courtesy of Aileen Calverley)

On Feb. 6, the Canadian government announced an extension and expansion of the OWP plan for eligible Hong Kong residents. However, the authorities did not mention any updates to the Hong Kong Pathway Stream B Immigration Program. Calverley immediately got in touch with the immigration department. “I will announce their feedback as soon as possible,” she said.

Calverley noted that the organization would report on Stream B after receiving an answer.

On the afternoon of March 7, several members of the “1617 Alliance” (Classes of 2016 and 2017 Graduates) arrived in Ottawa to petition the Canadian Immigration Department.

Epoch Times Photo
Several 1617 Alliance members (Classes of 2016 and 2017 Graduates) arrived in Ottawa, Canada, to petition the Canadian Immigration Department on the afternoon of March 7, 2023. (Donna Ho/The Epoch Times)

During the two-day trip, they met with 11 members of Congress, submitted a petition, and put forward a request to remove the requirement of the 5-year graduation limit. The group hoped the Canadian government would extend its Stream B Lifeboat Program Residence Policy to more Hongkongers.

Callverley, the head of the Canadian branch of Hong Kong Watch, as one of the event organizers, appreciated the efforts and courage of young people in Hong Kong. “Fight for what you think is unfair, fight for your rights, I think this is something that can be achieved in a democratic society,” she said.

She believed that it should be something the Canadian government should look into. Canada’s Lifeboat Program is the missing piece of the BNO puzzle. After the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law in July 2020, the human rights situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated by the day.

BNO Visa

The United Kingdom launched a policy for Hongkongers with British National Overseas Passports to apply for a five-year limited residence permit in the United Kingdom.

With the limited residence permit, Hongkongers can move to the United Kingdom to study and work; they can also apply for residence status after five years and officially apply for British nationality 12 months after obtaining residence status.

Hong Kong Watch has been closely monitoring the human rights situation in Hong Kong and communicating with the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The group has also submitted many proposals to the Ministry to find a resolution for young people who do not have BNO to move to Canada.

Canada Lifeboat Visa

Calverley explained that Canada is a founding member of the Commonwealth and has always been a partner with the United Kingdom. “What Britain can’t do, Canada can fill the gap.” She detailed that the lifeboat proposal at the time was to aid people under 24 in Hong Kong who did not have BNO to escape their difficult situation.

When they received the information, the final launch of the Lifeboat Scheme had been tied with a restriction of graduating within five years and then obtaining permanent residence status through the Stream B plan of the Hong Kong Pathway.

Although the proposal’s outcome was imperfect, Calverley said it marked the first step of Canadians lending a helping hand to Hong Kong people.

“While many people might believe that it is Canada’s responsibility to help struggling Hongkongers, I disagree: It is a moral responsibility. This lifeboat plan intends to fill the shortcomings of BNO.”

The Great Misconception

The Canadian Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) announced the Open Work Visa program for Hong Kong students and their families in November 2020.

Students who have graduated from post-secondary education institutions within the last five years can apply for OWP visas to work in Canada. As of June 2022, about 18,000 people have submitted their applications.

Calverly pointed out that many Hongkongers are confused about the policy’s relationship between work and migration.

For example, students who graduated in 2016 and 2017 can apply for an OWP visa if they meet the graduation criteria within five years as soon as the OWP policy becomes available to eligible Hongkongers. Calverley stressed that it was only a work visa, not an immigration visa plan.

The Canadian immigration plan includes Stream A and Stream B. Both programs require applicants to have already entered Canada before applying. Only applicants who have completed a course in Canada or have at least one year of full-time work experience in Canada can apply for the program. In other words, the Stream B program is unavailable to students who graduated after 2018.

Calverly mentioned that Hong Kong Watch had received many Hongkongers’ calls asking for aid. Most came from young people who graduated in 2016 and 2017 and arrived in Canada with OWP visas.

She explained that many did not realize they could only apply for Stream A or Stream B upon arriving in Canada. The applicants also need at least one year of complete study or work experience before applying.

She also said many people were unaware that the “five-year graduation restriction” criteria in the Stream B plan would start counting on the day they applied for the visa, not the day they received the permits. According to the statistics of CFSO (Community Family Services of Ontario), nearly 4,000 Hong Kong applications failed because of it.

However, many people would have already quit their jobs in Hong Kong, brought their families, and purchased their property in Canada before getting a visa.

The Hong Kong police registered many of these Hongkongers during the anti-extradition protests. They might face danger if they ever return to Hong Kong.

Many felt helpless and stranded and did not know what to do. Stream A and Stream B plans do not accept applications in Hong Kong. Another group of Hongkongers receives rejection letters because they do not know how different departments of the Canadian government work.

Calverley emphasized that applying for OWP and student visas is only for working and studying in Canada, not immigration. She mentioned that applicants should not fill in “Immigration” when applying for OWP in Hong Kong, or the application will be rejected.

The Canadian immigration department handles “Stream A” and “Stream B” programs. Therefore, you must be physically in Canada before applying for either.

As for the criteria of graduating within five years, which led to applicants who graduated in 2016 and 17 being ineligible, Calverley believed that the related department might have made a mistake in the calculation, which the authorities should rectify.

Calverly also proposed to extend the application period of OWP until Feb. 7, 2025, and expand the scope of applicant qualifications. The change from the original graduation at a junior college education institution in the past five years to the past ten years will allow more eligible Hongkongers to work in Canada. If the original condition of “graduating within five years” is not abolished, the current issue of ineligibility will continue.

Calverley detailed what she had learned, “Some institutions suggested that Hongkongers currently staying in Canada be transferred to Stream A, from studying abroad to immigration planning. I believe that is quite challenging for the majority of people. Many young people cannot afford the two-year tuition fee unless with the support of their parents.

Most of the applications I have seen for Stream A are middle-aged, but only a few students are around their 20s.”

Calverley believed they should continue to help Hongkongers extend and expand “Stream B” instead of encouraging them to transfer to a school for the sake of immigrating to Canada.”

Gathering Canadian Parliamentarians for the Lifeboat Expansion

Calverley told the newspaper that Hong Kong Watch did not experience too many problems while communicating with the members of the Canadian Parliament, as the organization is in good relations with the members.

“They are very supportive of extending and expanding the lifeboat scheme,” Calverley attended the Canadian Parliament’s Special Committees hearing on the Canada-China relationship on Oct. 4, 2022.

Calverley and Hong Kong Watch’s policy adviser Katherin Leung visited Ottawa from Oct. 17 to Oct. 20, 2022. They met with cross-party members of Parliament, including Sen. Leo Housakos and MPs Jenny Kwan, Tom Kmiec, Brad Redekopp, Garnett Genui,  Marcus Powlowski, John McKay, and James Bezan.

In the meeting, Hong Kong Watch received solid support for its proposal to better the Canadian lifeboat scheme.

On Jan. 26, Calverley assisted in contacting the Canadian Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party. The two party leaders MP Pierre Poilievre and MP Jagmeet Singh publicly called on the Canadian government to improve the program for Hongkongers.

Epoch Times Photo
Hong Kong Watch co-founder and trustee Aileen Calverlery (L) and policy adviser Katherine Leung (R) visited Ottawa from Oct. 17 to Oct. 20, 2023. they met with members of Shadow Minister of Immigration MP Tom Kmniec (Center). (Courtesy of Aileen Calverley)

The Latest Progress of the Lifeboat

By Feb. 14, 28 signatures had been received for the House of Commons Petition. By sponsoring Hong Kong Watch, MP Garnett Genuis successfully brought the lifeboat for Hongkongers subject to the House. And the topic has now entered the debate process. Should the proposal pass, the limited graduation term of five years will be lifted, which means more Hongkongers will benefit from the program.

Epoch Times Photo
Hong Kong Watch co-founder and trustee Aileen Calverley (L) and policy consultant Katherin Leung (R) visited Ottawa to meet with Canadian Vice Chair of immigration committee Brad Redekopp MP between Oct. 17 and Oct. 20, 2022. (Courtesy of Aileen Calvarley)
Epoch Times Photo
Hong Kong Watch co-founder and trustee Aileen Calverley (L) visited police adviser Katherin Leung (R) visited Ottawa to meet with the Canadian Vice Chair of the immigration committee, Salma Zahid MP, between Oct. 17 and Oct. 20, 2022. (Courtesy of Aileen Calvarley)

Members of “1617 Alliance” met on March 7, Salma Zahid, chairman of the immigration committee, Ken Hardie, chairman of the special committee on Canada-China relations, and Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the Conservative Party and sponsor of Hong Kong Watch Canada.

Former Hong Kong Governor Christopher Patten has consistently supported expanding the Stream B Permanent Residence Lifeboat Policy.

On Nov. 8, 2022, Patten wrote to Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Sean Fraser, urging for the open work visa change.

On March 2, Patten sent another letter to Sean Fraser. In the letter, Patten urged the Canadian Immigration Department again to open up to Hong Kong graduates who cannot obtain permanent residence due to the five-year graduation restriction in the program.

Canada’s High Praise of Hong Kong Immigrants’ Quality

Calverly is optimistic about extending and expanding Canada’s lifeboat program. “Canada is not scared of the additional immigrants going into Canada. When I spoke with the Associate Deputy Minister, he praised Hong Kong immigrants and said they are of high level. Their contribution to Canada has been outstanding, and the Canadian government did not mind sheltering Hongkongers.”

Calverley pledged Hong Kong Watch will continue to speak for Hongkongers overseas, and they welcome more volunteers to support their work.