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Vancouver’s new immigrants not here to make money but to find a better quality of life — and policymakers haven’t caught up

September 6th, 2016 · 14 Comments

As some of you sharper readers may have noticed, I’ve become interested in our significant new bloc of immigrants, those people from mainland China.

(Okay, I’ve always been interested. I got an Asia Pacific Foundation fellowship in 1990 that allowed me to live in China for three months, another different fellowship that took me to Hong Kong briefly in 1994, and I’ve watched the migrations from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China ever since, occasionally reporting on them)

There are so many people writing about this new group, but the overall coverage has been strange and dehumanizing. No one ever actually talks to any of these new immigrants or tries to understand them. They’re just “investors” here to “park their money.” Or they’re outright criminals.

Undoubtedly there are people like that from China. The legitimate stories about crimes or abuses deserve to be covered and some other reporters are doing that. Good on them.

But I’m interested in the people who are coming here, why they’re here and what they make of their life in Canada. I wrote a big story about a month ago that was the result of several months of talking to more than a dozen people and trying to get a handle on their lives in China and here. (It’s here.)

It’s a little strange that more reporters haven’t done some of this. Usually that’s a first move in journalism. If there’s an interesting sub-group in town, you go out and talk to people and find out who they are. I know some fellow reporters haven’t because they’re worried about exposing this group to the blasts of hatred that unmistakably proliferate on social media. I’m hoping more people will start to do more reporting on this new group of immigrants (about 150,000 — three times the number from Taiwan) in future.

Even at the universities, there isn’t much exploration going on that I know of.  I asked UBC geography professor David Ley, who did wonderful, sensitive, and empathetic research on the new immigrants arriving from Hong Kong and Taiwan in the 1990s (much of it in his Millionaire Migrants book), if he knew of anyone doing research on this new group. He didn’t.

But, over in sociology, it turned out someone was working on something.

My story today is a far-too-condensed summary of a new study, where UBC PhD student Jing Zhao interviewed almost three dozen people who were about to immigrate or had immigrated to Vancouver, and sociology professor Nathanael Lauster analyzed and co-wrote the results. (The full 31-page study is here, for those wanting more details or source material to quibble with my reporting.)

They found, as I had, that some in this group, despite their privileges (they’re usually well educated and are comfortable financially, if not the billionaires and fuerdai so beloved of many reporters), see themselves as refugees from China, with its rigid education system, terrible air and water pollution, dicey food quality, and restrictive policies on having children.

And they don’t care that much about starting new businesses or getting jobs here because that’s not why they came here. It’s a turnaround from the way many, many academics and policymakers think about immigration, which is usually seen as being strictly about improving economic life. As Lauster says, it’s about time we understand that and maybe adapt our thinking about who these new trans-national immigrants are.


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