By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's special immigration initiative for Hong Kong residents received over 500 applications in its first three weeks, a spokesman for Canada's immigration ministry said on Friday.
In November, the Canadian government said it would make it easier for Hong Kong youth to study and work in Canada in response to new security rules imposed by China on the former British colony.
"In the first three weeks that the program was open (Feb. 8 to Feb. 28), IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) received 503 applications for work permits and 10 applications for work permit extensions," press secretary Alexander Cohen said in an emailed statement.
"Canada shares the grave concerns of the international community over China's National Security Legislation and strongly supports the right to peaceful protest, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly", the statement added.
Canada said in February that Hong Kong graduates of Canadian universities could apply for a new category of three-year work permit from that month.
China imposed a new national security law in late June 2020 in Hong Kong, aimed at anything Beijing regards as subversion, secession or terrorism.
As China imposed the sweeping law, residents of the city moved tens of billions of dollars across the globe to Canada, where thousands were hoping to forge a new future.
Capital flows out of Hong Kong banks reaching Canada rose to their highest levels on record last year, with about C$43.6 billion ($34.87 billion) in electronic funds transfers (EFT) recorded by FINTRAC, Canada's anti-money-laundering agency, which receives reports on transfers above C$10,000.
The Hong Kong government has said the city has not seen significant capital outflows since the anti-government unrest first began in 2019.
Canada is a second home for many Hong Kong residents after their families moved to the Vancouver and Toronto areas ahead of the British handover of its former colony to China in 1997. After obtaining Canadian citizenship, many returned to Hong Kong, which is now home to about 300,000 Canadians - one of the largest Canadian communities abroad.
Canadian visa applications from Hong Kong, excluding visitors' visas, rose 10% to 8,121 in 2020.
($1 = 1.2503 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Lewis)