Canada's immigration exodus
2005年 03月 30日
Canada's immigration exodus
MIRO CERNETIG AND NICHOLAS KEUNG
There's a word going around Canada's Chinese community these days: hai gui. It means "overseas returnees," and it is meant to sound like the Mandarin word for sea turtles, those creatures of the temperate seas that can travel hundreds, even thousands of kilometres, but are ineluctably drawn back to the beaches where they were born.
In the past few years, for many Chinese-Canadians, this return to native shores has become an undeniable phenomenon. Never mind the recent Statistics Canada projection that immigrants will reign as the majority in this city by 2017; these immigrants are going home.
Michael Wu and his family are part of the hai gui, which for Canadians might simply be termed the Chinese brain drain. Like thousands of other highly educated Chinese-Canadian immigrants, they are leaving Canada in search of a better life, and they are finding it in China.
Wu, who is 40, came to Canada in 1996 with a PHD in economics from a Chinese university; he quickly augmented that degree with an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business, one of Canada's best, at the University of Western Ontario. His English is near perfect, and he has his Canadian citizenship. But, a little more than two years ago, after seven years in Canada, Wu decamped for Shanghai in search of a future that had eluded him here.
In the next few weeks, his wife, Nancy, a software engineer at IBM, will pack up the family's remaining belongings in their Toronto condo, and follow him there. Accompanying her will be their next generation: 2 1/2-year-old Kelly, the first of their family born on Canadian soil.
The Wus' is not a story of an immigrant family who couldn't make it in Canada. They carved out a perfectly respectable middle-class life here, with a home in the area of Yonge and Finch, and loads of friends. The problem is, Canada couldn't live up to Michael Wu's ambitions.
"I love Canada," he laments, speaking over the cacophony of Shanghai's rush hour. "It's a good life back there. But if you want too much, you can't make it."
Wu, his wife notes, did not want all that much, though he did desire a job that would lead him to the top. "I really like Canada — all our friends are here," Nancy sighs. "But here it's all settled; it's hard to get into the system for some reason, to get big jobs. For Michael, there were lots of more opportunities in China."
In Toronto, Wu had a job at the HSBC, where he began as a commercial banker and later moved on to investment banking. But then he looked at his long-term trajectory. He didn't like what he saw: slow promotions, good but not great pay and little chance at getting the corner office before he started going grey.
So his attention began spinning back to China, where someone like him, with experience in the West, could get his dream job. Today, Wu is chief investment officer for assessment management at the People's Insurance Company of China. That means he manages $5 billion in assets for the country's third-largest insurer, making him one of the industry's rising stars.
"I love Canada. I'm happy that I'm now a Canadian citizen, don't misunderstand me," he says, apologetically. "But I need to be here in Shanghai. I can operate at a much higher level here. Maybe it's because of language, or culture. But that is how it is. We'd like to come back to Canada, but I'm not sure when."
His wife, who has already found herself a job at IBM in China, though for less pay, isn't so sure that will happen. "If we're happy in Shanghai," she says bluntly, "I don't think we'll ever come back. Why would we?"
Between 1981 and 2001, an average of 35,400 immigrants of Chinese heritage came to Canada each year, mainly from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Chinese-Canadians number over one million today — making up the country's biggest visible minority group. Almost one in three has a university degree, double the rate of the Canadian population. They give Canada one of the world's highest concentrations of Chinese outside of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan — and clusters of talent that could give their counterparts in San Francisco or New York a run for their money. A name has even been coined for the phenomenon: Canada's Asianification. Our hidden advantage. The Chinese "brain gain."
Certainly, they are here at a crucial time. Canadians haven't had China this much on their minds since the student massacre in Tiananmen Square 16 years ago. These days, of course, Canadians are focused on it for a different reason: There are fortunes to be made in trading with the world's fastest-growing economy.
Yet serious questions arise as to whether Canada can win its share. For one thing, Canada may be turning into a second-tier player. Despite much attention from Ottawa to push trade with China, Canadian companies now account for about 1.6 per cent of China's global trade, about one quarter of what they enjoyed two decades ago.
In fact, the tables have turned: Canada might even be a takeover target. With a massive $600 billion (US) in foreign reserves, China's Communist regime is in a mood to buy up the West's strategic corporations. Recently, one of Beijing's state-controlled companies made a play for the personal computer arm of IBM, once an unthinkable move. Now China's state-owned companies are thought to be eyeing some of Canada's key mining and oil companies.
It's all created ripples of anxiety in Western capitals. In the U.S., there is a movement afoot, led by powerful members of Congress, to review whether the IBM sale might hurt U.S. national security. At home, Canada's spy agency, CSIS, has warned that China is actively spying in Canada, seeking to steal industrial and technological secrets (which Canada does have). And, given that China could, if it desires, buy out most of this country's major resource companies with a fraction of its foreign reserves, it's no surprise some of our MPs are calling for a careful review of such megadeals.
There's also a growing realization, however, that Chinese-Canadians, concentrated in Toronto and Vancouver, could give us the edge we lack in the coming economic battles with China. Prime Minster Paul Martin, whose global shipping empire has made him no stranger to the cutthroat world of Asia's boardrooms, sees it unambiguously.
"We have a not-so-secret weapon, a real asset, in this contest for the pocket books and wallets of booming Asia," he told an audience of businessmen before embarking on his Team Canada trade mission to Asia recently. "Canadians of Chinese origin number more than one million. . . . Those who choose careers in commerce provide companies in Canada with a tremendous advantage in selling their products in China and in managing joint ventures. And the magnitude of the advantage is just beginning to be felt."