The floating life of affluent ‘transnational’ migrants

posted on August 2, 2014

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

New demographic: They are ‘global elites’, but such quasi-immigrants often lead unsatisfying, complex lives cities around the world, including Vancouver. Seeking opportunity, they find themselves floating through existence, as if on an airplane, without roots.

Floating Life offers a glimpse into a profound new demographic movement. It captures the astonishing rise of “transnationals,” sometimes known as “circular migrants.” They’re the family members constantly moving back and forth between countries, largely as part of an educational and financial strategy.

Floating Life details how different members of the Hong Kong family, and their close friends, start jetting off to spend various amounts of time in Australia, Germany and Canada. Directed by Clara Law, the movie begins as a comedy, but transforms into something more unsettled.

The Hong-Kong raised director, who lives mostly in Australia, deserves credit for taking on the thorny subject of the millions of migrants, often seeking dual or triple citizenship, who maintain residences in a variety of globalized cities like Metro Vancouver, whose population is 45 per cent foreign born.

Unlike many observers, Law makes a point of being up-to-date on migration issues. While B.C. politicians apologized this year to the Chinese population for events that occurred more than 75 years ago, and Canadian readers continue to be drawn to Wayson Choi’s books, Jade Peony and All That Matters, for memories of Vancouver’s Chinatown in the 1930s and ‘40s, Law’s movie captures how migration realities, particularly for East Asians, have utterly changed.

The United Nations Global Commission on International Migration has caught the scope of this staggering shift. It details how the migration story today is generally not the traditional one of arrival, settlement and integration. Instead, migration, especially for the affluent, has turned into a globalized trend of unprecedented mobility, porous national borders, weak loyalties, opportunism and fragmented families.

Metro Vancouver is one of the prime spots on the planet for wealthy circular migrants.

They have been welcomed eagerly by Canadian and B.C. politicians, the Asia Pacific Canada Foundation, real estate developers and high-end retailers, who consider them the global elite. Metro Vancouver hosts far more East-Asian business-class immigrants per capita than any Canadian city, according to studies from the University of B.C.

Vancouver International Airport features about a dozen jumbo passenger jets a day between Vancouver and Beijing, Hong Kong and Taiwan. UBC geographers Daniel Hiebert and David Ley found one of four immigrants in Metro Vancouver fly home each year to their country of origin. One out of five surveyed own property in their homeland.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has more than 250,000 residents with Canadian passports (Lebanon has another 40,000), virtually all born in Asia. Many are “astronaut” patriarchs; fathers who obtained citizenship after spending a few years in Canada, before returning to East Asia to make money to send to their wife and children.

One scholarly researcher, Anita Mak, discovered Hong Kong business firms were holding open positions for favoured employees for two or three years so they could spend the requisite time in Australia or Canada to obtain a passport, before returning to work in the high-powered East Asian financial centre.

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