Last year, major protests erupted in Hong Kong as a result of the Hong Kong Government’s intention to pass a bill that would allow for the extradition of people from Hong Kong to China. Although the extradition bill was eventually withdrawn, the protests are still ongoing, albeit at a smaller scale than their peak in late 2019. The protests have led to the detention of protesters, with more than 10,000 people being detained. Prominent leaders of the protests are further being prosecuted for causing unrest. Some activists who were not detained have attempted to flee Hong Kong. Some have tried to flee by boat to Taiwan, with varying degrees of success, while others have tried to escape to locations much farther away, like Canada.
On September 1, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada notified a couple from Hong Kong that it had been determined that the couple were “Convention Refugees” and as such their claim for asylum was granted. This ruling has wide-reaching implications for anyone who enters Canada from Hong Kong seeking to escape persecution, as they can now be considered refugees and make successful claims for asylum.
A “Convention Refugee” is someone who under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees cannot return to their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion or other factors. As a result of the laws that make someone speaking out against the government in China, and now Hong Kong, liable for sedition, subversive, or terrorist activities, refugees from Hong Kong will mostly qualify as Convention refugees under the political opinion class.
Some commentators believe that Canada’s decision to admit refugees from Hong Kong is an indictment of the independence of Hong Kong’s legal system from China. Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that returned Hong Kong to China, Hong Kong was supposed to retain a level of autonomy from China until 2047. This autonomy is supposed to include Hong Kong having a legal system largely separate from that of Mainland China. Canada’s decision to admit refugees from Hong Kong now, when it previously did not may indicate a lack of confidence from our Government in the practical aspects of Hong Kong’s independence from China.
This change in policy from Canada seems warranted, as refugee claims from Hong Kong for the first three months of 2020 were triple the amount of those in 2019. Canada is no stranger to accepting immigrants from Hong Kong. In the late 1990’s many people from Hong Kong who sought to flee before the United Kingdom handed the former colony back to China chose to come to Canada. Today, more than 300,000 people who live in Hong Kong hold a Canadian Passport. The decision to admit protestors may also be partly politically motivated, but regardless of the motive, people from Hong Kong now have the option of coming to Canada and making a successful refugee claim.
Make sure you stay updated on regional restrictions and regulations before you make travel arrangements. If you are trying to travel make sure you qualify as essential or prepare an exemption request. Depending on where you are going, you may also need a 14-day quarantine plan. If you have questions about where you can travel, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law are continuing to monitor the immigration fallout in relation to COVID-19 on both sides of the border and will provide updates as the situation develops. If you have any questions about your potential classification as essential or about how you should comply with the changing regulations, do not hesitate to reach out to us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.