As Premier Bob McLeod heads to China this weekend to promote the territory to would-be immigrants, it’s unclear if one of the territorial government’s key immigration programs is even up and running.
Clint MacNichol works as the foreign manager of the Zhaojin Yellowknife Academy, a language school in the city of Zhaoyun in China’s Shandong Province that’s a joint venture between NWT investors and the province’s largest gold producer.
Over the past several months he’s had at least seven people approach him for help applying to the NWT’s Entrepreneur Business Nominee Program, which fast tracks people through the immigration process if they agree to invest a minimum of $300,000 in a Yellowknife business or $150,000 in a business outside of Yellowknife.
“There’s quite an entrepreneurial spirit in China, so it’s not hard to find someone who has saved a lot of capital and is ready to move abroad,” said MacNichol.
But when he called GNWT’s department of Industry, Tourism and Investment that runs the program, however, no one seemed to know anything about it.
“It was like the program was dormant,” he said. “I guess because the program is new and unfamiliar, no one is sure how to get from A to Z.”
If the GNWT was serious about attracting Chinese immigrants, said MacNichol, it should translate its immigration website into Chinese. At the very least, it should have people manning the phones who know the ins and outs of the nominee programs, he added.
McLeod has heard complaints
Premier Bob McLeod said he’s heard several complaints about the program being dormant but wasn’t aware if any steps had been taken to remedy the problem and said he’d look into it.
MacNichol is highly optimistic that the program will soon be running smoothly as it’s now a focus of the government’s leaders. “I believe the only impediment has come from lack of experience. No one has accessed this program since inception in 2009,” he said.
And McLeod is still hoping the trip will deliver results on the immigration front.
“There are about 100,000 people in China who want to come to the territory,” he assessed, basing his estimate off Canadian Tourism Commission numbers. “We have a stated goal of increasing our population by 2,000 over a five-year period. One of the best ways of doing it is through immigration.”
The main purpose of the trip is promoting NWT tourism, energy and furs, McLeod explained. This includes attending the annual Beijing Fur and Leather Show and hosting a gala in Japan for 120 guests from the Japanese tourism, diamond and fur sectors.
Focus on smaller cities, says entrepreneur
In general, MacNichol and Yellowknife entrepreneur Paige Saunders, one of the main shareholders who started the Zhaojin Yellowknife Academy, were pleased the premier was making the trip to strengthen ties between the NWT and China.
“Giving face is a large part of Chinese business culture. Having leaders visit is important,” said Saunders.
However, he suggested the Premier should get outside of Beijing and Shanghai, if he really wants to make a splash. There are thousands of “smaller” cities in China, each with hundreds of thousands, even millions, of potential customers, which seldom get visited by western businesses or leaders, said Saunders.
For his part, McNichol would like to “organize a trade mission to Zhaoyuan China instead of Beijing” to allow people from the area to learn about the North and provide the government with a captive audience. From there, he’d like to bring a group of potential Chinese investors to the NWT and help them enter the nominee program.
“It’s an entrepreneur’s dream,” said Saunders. “The smaller cities in China, like Zhaoyun, still have millions of people but they don’t have a lot of foreign business. It’s like if YK had a pop of half a million and didn’t have a coffee shop.”