Chinese citizens who gave money to Prince Edward Island's troubled immigration nominee program say they're angry they haven't been refunded, two years after Ottawa rejected their visa applications.
Qiu Chuanbo, 47, said in an interview that he is owed close to $91,000 after giving money to the program, which was intended to attract immigrants who would invest in companies in the province.
He said the delay in getting his money back is a severe financial blow, making it difficult for him to fund his children's university education in China.
"After going through this, I became very angry," he said in Mandarin from his home in Dalian, China.
"The government is too slow, too unreasonable. I think my money should have been refunded long ago."
The provincial government won't comment on his or other specific cases, but says there is a trust fund to refund some of each applicant's money.
But Qiu, the owner of a small interior decoration firm, said the lack of responses he has received from provincial officials and immigration consultants in Canada has made him distrustful of Canadian officials.
He said relatives and friends of rejected applicants are planning to travel from Toronto to stage a protest in Charlottetown later this month to urge the province to return their money.
Qiu said he provided $152,500 in the summer of 2008 to one of the provincially chosen, private intermediary firms that was to invest his cash in a P.E.I. business. He said he expected he would receive shares in a P.E.I. firm and be allowed to immigrate to Canada.
Instead, Qiu said he received a federal rejection letter in January 2010 that said his documentation wasn't acceptable.
He said he's awaiting $90,975 of his funds, the amount he calculates he's owed since the province returned two deposits he gave them and a Chinese immigration consultant repaid him some fees.
"I think the way that Canada does things is cumbersome, demanding whatever they like," he said. "They seem not to care about ... Chinese immigrants."
Andy Hu, a Toronto resident, said his older brother was accepted in 2008 under P.E.I.'s nominee program after being interviewed in Hong Kong, but was rejected by Ottawa in April 2010.
Hu said of the $150,000 his brother gave to the program, only a $45,000 deposit was returned.
The 47-year-old Toronto resident declined to give his brother's full name, saying he was ashamed because he hasn't yet told all of his family members that a portion of his life savings hasn't been refunded.
In a letter forwarded to The Canadian Press, Andy Hu's brother said the wait has meant he and other applicants have missed out on investing during China's economic boom. He also said he was facing difficulties paying his daughter's university fees.
"Many of these applicants have already prepared to immigrate to Canada after paying $150,000 and being nominated by the P.E.I. government," he says in the letter.
"They closed down their businesses in China, sold most of their properties, and sent children to International Baccalaureate courses."
Jamie Aiken, the province's director of immigration, said rejected applicants may eventually gain access to a $9 million trust fund that can provide about $55,000 per person. Aiken said the fund will cover 164 rejected applicants, but the province must first ensure it has money for them before starting payouts.
"We want to make sure there is sufficient coverage (in the fund)," Aiken said in an interview.
He said the trust fund won't be available until Ottawa has completed processing some backlogged files of the 2,627 applicants whose cash the province accepted between 2007 and the fall of 2008.
Aiken said he is aware of about 50 applicants that Ottawa has rejected so far.
A spokeswoman for federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the department warned P.E.I. in 2008 that there would be lengthy delays for the unusually large number of applicants.
"P.E.I's mismanagement of the provincial nominee program affected the integrity of Canada's immigration system," said Alexis Pavlich.
"But hopefully it hasn't caused irreparable damage to Canada's reputation overseas for prospective immigrants."
She said the backlog was a result of P.E.I.'s push of 2,200 applications in 2008, which swamped three Immigration offices.
Qiu and Hu say they should receive the balance of their investment aside from the $55,000 from the trust fund.
But Aiken said any refunds above that amount depends on private agreements set up between the intermediaries and each immigrant.
"Due to privacy laws and legislation, I can't make comments about particular agreements between a company and a partner," he said.
Charlottetown lawyer Kenneth Clark, an intermediary with the firm Island Business Initiatives Inc., declined an interview request.
But in an email he said the company has abided by the terms of its agreements with its immigration applicants.
"IBI is in compliance with the terms of its contracts with all immigrant partners it assisted and the polices of the P.E.I. provincial nominee program."
The provincial nominee program was set up by a federal-provincial agreement in 2002.
Money from immigrants was sent to government-appointed intermediaries in Canada — usually lawyers or accountants — who took a list of approved immigrants from the province and then matched them to P.E.I. businesses.
Some of that money was sent back to immigration consultants in China who helped the applicants and another portion of the funds went to the province for various fees.
Ottawa shut down the program in 2008 after it tried to get P.E.I. to change it to conform with federal regulations for provincial nominee programs.
Since then, P.E.I. has introduced a new nominee program that complies with revamped federal regulations.
How the money generally flowed through P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program:
Note: These slides show how the financing arrangements typically worked and summarize very complex arrangements. They are not meant to depict any specific approach, which varied from case to case.
<em>* Source: P.E.I. Auditor General's report, 2009, interviews with intermediaries.</em> <em>Graphic: Slavko Eror, The Huffington Post Canada</em>