A Chinese reporter seeking an extension of his stay in Canada and a Canadian journalist who applied for a visa in China are both facing extremely long delays in approvals from each other’s governments.
These twin delays come amid strained relations between Canada and China.
Li Baodong has been reporting in Canada since 2014, and in 2018 a “visitor record” document issued by Canada expired. He applied for a renewal at the end of May, 2018, and as of today, 430 days later, he’s still waiting. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s website says normal processing time is around 90 days.
A visitor record is issued to foreign nationals and specifies the conditions and validity period of their temporary stay in Canada.
The Chinese journalist signed a privacy waiver so that Canada’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration could share information with The Globe and Mail concerning his case.
But even after Mr. Li waived privacy rights, the department offered little information.
“This is a complex case that requires longer processing time,” said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
She said the time required can vary depending on how easily Canada can verify the information on the application, how “well and quickly the applicant responds to any requests or concerns” and the volume of applications received, among other factors. Another department spokeswoman noted Mr. Li can remain in Canada under the same conditions of the expired visitor record “until a decision has been made” on his application for renewal.
“I’m really surprised it’s taken so long,” said Mr. Li, a veteran correspondent for Beijing’s state-run Xinhua News Agency. “They have never given an explanation.”
His wife, who is with him in Canada, has faced the same document delays. The wait means neither of them can go back to China to visit family, and his wife, who had breast cancer surgery in Beijing in January, 2018, has been unable to return home for medical checkups there.
Relations between Canada and China have deteriorated over the past eight months after Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., on an extradition request from the United States. The United States alleges she helped the flagship Chinese company violate U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.
Days after Ms. Meng was detained, Beijing seized former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, actions that critics have called "hostage diplomacy."
Since December, China has inflicted increasing economic pain on Canada. Beijing blocked pork and beef exports from Canada, purchases of soybeans have stopped and buyers for Canada’s canola seed have disappeared.
Radio-Canada, this country’s French language public broadcaster, has waited well over a year for a journalist visa to China, leaving it short-staffed in Beijing in the midst of Canada-China tensions.
In June, 2018, the Canadian broadcaster applied for credentials to send a camera operator to China, to work alongside correspondent Anyck Béraud.
Roughly 14 months later, it’s still waiting for the visa, and the delay has affected Radio-Canada’s television coverage.
“As a result, Anyck Béraud will focus on producing content for digital platforms and radio, while also contributing regular live hits for television,” spokesperson Marie Tétreault said.
Though there are no set guidelines, Chinese authorities typically issue journalist visas within several months. However, such timelines can become much longer in cases where there are disputes, either between China and a foreign country, or between Chinese officials and a specific media outlet.
Radio-Canada, however, did not point to any political grounds for the long wait.
“Delays like these are not uncommon when managing foreign bureaus and can vary for each country,” Ms. Tétreault said.
Xinhua’s Mr. Li said he doesn’t know if his case and that of Radio-Canada’s are linked.
The Chinese embassy in Canada, for its part, said it hopes Mr. Li’s work is not hampered by the delay.
“Media serve as an import bridge and bond to enhance communications and understandings between people of different countries. We hope the relevant departments of the Canadian side could facilitate Chinese journalists’ normal work in Canada," the Chinese embassy said in a statement.
Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said it's possible the two cases are linked.
“Our national interest favours mirroring. If China is not delivering service, why should we?” Mr. Kurland said.
“In my view, these cases are tethered diplomatically," he said. "I’ve seen this done by Canada before, with other countries as well.”
He said the Chinese journalist could take the government to Federal Court to flesh out the facts in Canada at least.