Tax returns

Busy time for tax clinic offering help for Chinese newcomers and students

One centre in Halifax says it needs more volunteers this season

During the tax return season, although there are 20 tax preparation clinics in Halifax available for free tax return services, only one of them can offer their service in Cantonese and Mandarin.

EClife Newcomers’ Information and Services Centre is a business that offers services including information consulting. This year, they started offering a free tax return service from March 1 to April 12.

Although Jinbo Chen, the general manager of the clinic, isn’t an accountant, he wanted to offer the free tax return service because he wanted to do something for the community.

“If you do the tax return by yourself, you may be afraid of making mistakes,” said Chen.

“We heard a lot that they did by themselves last year or in previous year. The CRA didn’t get the report from them, which ended up with (unsuccessful) tax return.”

International students who have been in Canada for 183 days or more during the current calendar year are supposed to file a Canadian income tax return. Rebecca Gong, an international student from China took part in the EClife tax return service last Sunday.

She has been at Saint Mary’s University since 2015. Last year she didn’t know how to do the tax return by herself, or even where she could get help.

Gong registered for the free tax return service from ECLife.   Sixian Zuo

This year when Gong asked for help from the international centre at Saint Mary’s, she said volunteers told her that they only can do a tax return for 2016, not previous years.

Gong is not the only one in this situation who has come to EClife.

“I found a lot of the clients came with 2014, 2015 tax returns needed to be filed,” said Aiden Holden, a retired professional accountant and volunteer at EClife. “They’ve been here as a student several years and now getting close to graduation … have never filed before.”

Aiden Holden, right, helps an international student from China.   Sixian Zuo

Chen estimates that every week around 45 people use their service, but there are many more in need. He estimates there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Chinese international students in Halifax. 

Currently, five volunteers work for EClife and Chen said they may need more because other than Holden, all of the other volunteers are Chinese international students.

Qiannan Li, a volunteer, helps people file using the UFile software.   Sixian Zuo

There are so many phone calls coming in that they are planning to create a website where people can set up an appointment.

Silvia Ma, who graduated from Dalhousie University, used the free tax service at EClife this year. When she was an international student, she could easily get access to the international centre and file her tax return. After she graduated and got a job, her tax situation become more complicated and she didn’t know how to fill it out by herself.

I have some new events happened in 2016 like RRSP ( Registered Retirement Saving Plan) contribution, TFSA ( tax-free saving account) contribution, donation etc., so I prepared a lot of questions to ask during my appointment,” stated Ma via WeChat, a social media app.

She said she saved herself about $100 because she used the free service and didn’t pay anyone to do her return.

Chen said they may extend the service beyond April because of the demand.