Human Rights Group Proposes New Lifeboat Scheme to Canada to Offer More Hongkongers Refuge

By Yi Ling
Yi Ling
Yi Ling
Yi Ling is a reporter based in Toronto.
June 22, 2022 Updated: June 22, 2022

The Canadian government announced the extension of its lifeboat work visa program in May, 2021, but not many Hongkongers could apply.

For this matter, human rights organizations proposed a new Hongkongers Protection Plan to the Canadian government, to expand the scope of the previous lifeboat program, so that more Hongkongers who wish to leave Hong Kong can be safeguarded under Canadian wings.

Sam Goodman, Director of Policy and Advocacy of human rights group Hong Kong Watch, and co-founder, and trustee Aileen Calverley proposed the Human Rights Defenders Protection Plan to members of Parliament of Canada on June 6, 2022. The organization suggested in its proposal that Canada would continue and expand the scope of its previously implemented Lifeboat Program while filling its loopholes and shortcomings.

Hong Kong Watch team shared their desire for Hong Kong protesters who aren’t eligible for the BNO Visa Program—to gain assistance from Canada and offer them a safe harbor away from political oppression in Hong Kong.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia in mid-June, Calverley said protesters who aren’t covered by the Lifeboat Scheme should also be protected. Therefore, by initiating The Human Rights Defenders Program, it will offer any ineligible BNO Hong Konger a chance to apply for work visas.

Calverley further explained, “The current Lifeboat Program only covers people of a certain age and education levels, but that only benefits a small batch of Hongkongers. Coupled with the deteriorating human rights and press freedom in Hong Kong in the past two years, more people are in need of assistance—particularly, media professionals, front-line first responders, protesters who have been released from prison, and protesters who are at risk of arrest due to their participation in the protests.”

According to the data from Hong Kong Watch, from the beginning of the anti-extradition protests in 2019 to this May 2022, there are over 700 political prisoners, including former legislative councilors, district councilors, and democracy activists. Of those arrestees 600 have been sentenced to jail, while 160 of them have been detained with pending trials.

Many of the democratic figures have already been confined in prison for an extended period before any trial; some of them have also been denied bail by the courts.

Calverley told Radio Free Asia that Hong Kong Watch has been in talks with the Canadian government about expanding the current Young Talent Scheme, which can help fill Canada’s current labor shortage. By expanding the scheme, more blue-collar Hongkongers and graduates from vocational schools will be enticed to apply for work visas in Canada and contribute to the country. This is a win-win outcome.

Calverley explained the background information and details of the schemes as follows:

Data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada shows that, as of the end of January 2022, the implementation of the lifeboat program’s work permit visa, only attracted about 10,000 Hongkongers to apply for this type of visa.

The figures represent only a small fraction of the total number of people who left Hong Kong.

In November 2020, ex-Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada, Marco Mendicino, officially launched the “lifeboat work permit visa scheme” which was set up for Hong Kongers,” in Feb. 2021. It is open to eligible Hongkongers to apply for permanent residency who wish to move to Canada through study or work. The scheme will operate until Feb. 7, 2023, a total of three years.

Effective May 17, 2021, the Canadian government expanded its public policy with “3-year open work permits for Hong Kong recent graduates” and unveiled two additional immigration pathways to support Hongkongers.

Applications begin from June 1, 2021 and ends on August 31, 2026. The application fee is US$1,085.

The two other pathways were explained as follows. For the first pathway, applicants must hold a degree or diploma from a Canadian-designated or recognized educational institution gained within the last 3 years, while at least 50 percent of the course must be completed in Canada via classroom or online learning. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree or above, and the diploma must have a minimum of two years of coursework.

For postgraduate degrees or postgraduate educational diplomas or certificates, a minimum of a year of coursework is required. University courses and undergraduate degrees or diplomas must have been obtained within five years of starting of the postgraduate program.

In the second pathway policy, any applicant must have had at least one year of full-time work experience in Canada within the past three years, which is equivalent to a minimum of 1560 hours worth of part-time work. Applicants are also required to have completed one of these (one year or 1560 hours of work) in any educational institution within or outside Canada, in the past five years.

Eligible applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree or above and a diploma with at least two years of coursework, or a postgraduate diploma or certificate of at least one-year coursework. In addition, courses and university degrees or diplomas must be obtained within five years of the start of a graduate or postgraduate program.

Current Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser announced in mid-Feb. 2022 that the Canadian government had devised immigration absorption targets for 2022 to 2024. It is estimated that more than 430,000 new immigrants will be absorbed each year to support the post-pandemic economic recovery and labor shortages, as well as to meet Canada’s humanitarian commitments.

Yi Ling
Yi Ling is a reporter based in Toronto.