Hong Kong Emigr'es Find Mixed Welcome In Western Canada

VANCOUVER, Canada's third-largest city, has already had an influx of Chinese immigrants. But the city is bracing for more as a result of new federal legislation. Though wealthy and not-so-wealthy Chinese immigrants have brought prosperity with them, they - like other immigrant groups before them - have found social acceptance elusive here.

The new immigrant Chinese of Vancouver are mostly from Hong Kong. Many are rich professionals, moving assets and families out of the British colony before it is turned over to China in 1997. At present, Canada is their No. 1 destination, ahead of the United States, Australia, and Britain, the ruler of the colony. Britain will take only a small percentage of Hong Kong Chinese.

``The changes in 1997 have a lot to do with the heavy inflow of immigrants,'' says Joachim Knauf, an economist with the federal Department of Immigration in Vancouver. ``This is the Pacific's gateway city. That has some appeal, and most Hong Kong Chinese speak English as second language.''

Some analysts estimate that 40 percent of Chinese leaving Hong Kong head for Canada, with Toronto and Vancouver their cities of choice. The immigration department says that while Toronto was the No. 1 destination, Vancouver is close to eclipsing it. Many Hong Kong immigrants arrive as part of a special class of entrepreneurial immigrants bringing at least $350,000 Canadian [US$303,415] in assets.

The percentage of ethnic Chinese in Vancouver has risen from 12 percent to 15 percent of the city's population since 1986, according to the Department of Immigration's Vancouver office.

In the first 8 months of 1990, Asians immigration rose from 50 to 65 percent of total immigration into the Vancouver area.

``There are some racial tensions,'' admits Mr. Knauf. But he adds that most Canadians are both tolerant and aware of the benefits of adding highly educated, well-off immigrants to the mix. ``The wealth being brought in amounts to $1 billion Canadian to $1.5 billion Canadian [US $860 million to $1.3 billion]'' added to $1.73 billion in other Hong Kong investments, he says.

In 1988-89, Vancouver had employment growth of 12 percent, the highest in Canada. Government economists attribute the growth to the influx of immigrants.

Then there are the race-related complaints about wealthy Chinese immigrants building so-called ``monster'' homes, large houses built on lots next door to small residential bungalows.

``The issue of monster houses is nonsense,'' says Calvin Quong, who runs a trust company owned by a Hong Kong immigrant. ``There are lot of those big houses sitting empty. They were built on [speculation] by builders who thought they were building for the immigrants from Hong Kong.''

Mr. Quong objects to the ``monster'' home and other stereotypes of rich Chinese who are alleged to flaunt their wealth. Most Hong Kong immigrants are middle-class professionals, he says, not rich business people.

A recent survey done for Maclean's, a Canadian news magazine, shows most native Canadians (62 percent of respondents) in British Columbia want newcomers to adapt to the larger culture.

``Canadians demand stability,'' says Allan Gregg of Decima Research Ltd., which did the survey. ``And anything that threatens to upset that stability, they eschew.''

Most Chinese are hard working and honest. Vancouver police report some organized crime with roots in Hong Kong.

``Chinese organized crime covers everything from extortion to gambling and drugs,'' says Robert Cooper of the Vancouver Police Department, a member of the organized crime squad. Hong Kong police visit Vancouver frequently, says Cooper, to keep an eye on any criminal connection between the two cities.

Last fall, Canada's Minister of Immigration said the country would permit more new immigrants, and the new bill allows for an increase from 250,000 to 350,000 annually. Thus the influx from Hong Kong is expected to continue.

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