As part of the Canadian visa application process, a company operated by the Chinese police in Beijing gathers extensive personal details, creating safety concerns for travelers applying for a visa to Canada and other countries.
According to a Globe and Mail article, Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Company, which operates the Canadian visa application centre in China’s capital, is operated by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. With a number of the center’s staff found to be members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), concerns are raised about how the government, notorious for surveillance and security threats, holds private details.
Chinese security services “are obviously very interested in mining visa data,” Robert Potter, an Australian cybersecurity specialist who has served as a Canadian government advisor, told The Globe.
He said that visa application centers are of high importance to intelligence. If they can learn from these centres on how to get their visas accepted, government agents have a greater chance of infiltrating a foreign state.
The information could also be used to prevent Chinese people from leaving the country. Potters said that certain individuals, such as Uyghur Muslims, a large ethnic minority group that the CCP is committed to monitoring, would “get flagged as a terrorist” just for leaving China with a visa application.
“If you are a Uyghur and you are applying for a visa to Canada on humanitarian grounds, it is really dangerous to give that information to the security service.”
A former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, said it’s best to presume that there is no privacy for visa applications made in China.
“You can bet the interest of the Chinese government is to know who’s going to study abroad, who’s going to be a tourist, and who wants to leave and emigrate,” he said.
Beijing Shuangxiong identifies itself as one of the first organizations to provide individuals with entry and exit services authorized by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. Its workers are found to have close ties to the governing CCP.
According to The Globe, You Xiangdong, the company’s legal representative and general manager, serves as the secretary of its CCP division. The business also has strong relations with Beijing Youth Politics College, a school that has educated CCP leadership for new generations.
Beijing Shuangxiong is a subcontractor of VFS Global, a corporation that holds an agreement to provide visa processing services around the world with the Canadian government.
The company depends on subcontractors in China to operate 11 Canadian visa application centers that collect personal and biometric information and then transfer it to Canadian immigration officials to decide who can be issued visas.
Peter Brun, VFS Global’s chief communications officer, told the Globe that VFS works to provide visa-application services through locally owned “facility management companies.”
Beijing Shuangxiong, a subsidiary of the Beijing Sifu Business Management Office, is wholly owned by Beijing Tongda Asset Management Group. Beijing Sifu is an arm of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Office, the town’s police, according to corporate documents. Beijing Sifu is identified as a working unit of the city police in a 2017 Beijing City paper.
30 percent of the Canadian visa offices in that city are owned by the Shanghai Municipal Education Board. The majority share of the center in Guangzhou is held by China Travel Services, a big, centrally owned firm. The 93.55-percent ownership of the subcontracting company in Jinan City is owned by Pei Zhongyi, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a central instrument of the CCP regime.
Brun said all application information is encrypted upon entry and then “securely and directly transferred to servers located in Canada only.” He said that only officials of the Canadian government can obtain access to this information.
Brun said VFS Global performs “credit and criminal record checks on all employees before they are hired” and “security risks” are tracked by employees’ e-mail and telecommunications.
Services rendered by Beijing Shuangxiong are also used by western countries including Britain, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, and New Zealand.
Canadian Immigration Agency Defends Arrangement
The Department of Citizenship and Immigration of Canada defends the visa application agreements it has made with businesses in China.
“They must be partnered with a local Chinese company in order for any foreign company to operate in China, and Canadian contractors are not exempted from this,” Department Spokesman Rémi Larivière told The Globe. “In order to ensure that our stringent privacy standards are met, Canadian officials closely monitor the activities of visa application centres (VACs) around the world.”
Opposition parties in Canada have advised the government of Trudeau to end the deal with VFS Global. NDP MP Jenny Kwan wrote to Minister of Immigration Marco Mendicino and Minister of Public Services Anita Anand to express “serious concerns about the information security handled by VFS Global.”