Asian Immigrants Help Vancouver Beat Recession

WHILE the rest of Canada is in recession, Vancouver is enjoying a measure of prosperity, due in part to the influx of immigrants from Hong Kong and other parts of Asia. ``Vancouver's Hong Kong immigrants are one of the few reasons this city is not in a recession,'' says Calvin Quong, president of Citizen's Trust, a financial firm owned by Brian Hui, an immigrant from Hong Kong.

In the streets of Vancouver, and in its suburbs, Chinese faces and Chinese signs are everywhere. The percentage of Vancouver's population which is of Asian origin has risen from 12 percent in 1986 to 15 percent today, according to the federal government. And 75 percent of those immigrants are from Hong Kong.

Asian immigrants bring money - personal riches and business investments. Immigrants have to have at least $350,000 (Canadian; US$300,000) to be allowed in; many have more. ``In any given year that can mean $1 to $2 billion in terms of wealth immigrants bring with them,'' says Joachim Knauf, an economist with the federal immigration department here. ``And another $1 billion to $1.5 billion comes in the form of investment money, most of it from Hong Kong.''

At one Vancouver branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce - one of Canada's biggest banks - there are tellers whose English is weak but who speak fluent Cantonese. That is all they need as this branch appears to deal mainly with Chinese customers.

Vancouver hopes its economy has broken out of the boom-and-bust cycles based on British Columbia's natural resources. Indeed, the city is prospering while forest products and mining, the businesses of the province's interior, are in a slump.

Commercial real estate, facing a dowturn in Toronto and Montreal, is thriving in Vancouver, says Avtar Bains, vice president of Colliers Macaulay Nicolls Inc., a national firm based in Vancouver.

``The business with the Pacific Rim adds stability to Vancouver,'' says Mr. Bains from his office overlooking the harbor and the construction of a new office tower. ``We were too dependent on mining, forestry, and fishing. Now the city is a service center for the Far East.''

And economists say it is more than just the wave of Chinese immigrants which is bolstering Vancouver's economy. Early last year, for the first time, British Columbia did more trade with the countries of the Pacific Rim than with either the rest of Canada or the United States. And people move here because of the mild climate, ocean, and mountains. ``The boom and bust things might still be there but it's also being slowed by the Gray Wave,'' Mr. Knauf says. ``That's the inflow of immigrants from eastern Canada.''

The west, often resentful of playing second fiddle to central Canada, feels a sense of pride that its economy is still moving forward while Ontario and Quebec are stuck. ``For the first time our economy is buoyant while Ontario is in recession,'' says banker Quong, who was born in Hong Kong of Canadian and Chinese parents. ``To keep this economy going we should take as many new immigrants as we can handle.''

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