Could Visa Program Make Canada The New Silicon Valley?

25 Apr 2013

Immigration News

Canada's Start-up Visa Program seeks to attract immigrant entrepreneurs by offering permanent residency up front to those who meet the qualifications.

With no end in sight to the battle over immigration reform in the USA, other countries are capitalizing on Washington's backlog by launching visa programs designed to attract top-tier innovators. This month, Canada joined the pack with one of the most comprehensive immigration packages available to entrepreneur immigrants: The Start-Up Visa Program.

"The Start-up Visa Program is the first of its kind in the world," said Paul Northcott, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. "The government is looking to target a new type of immigrant entrepreneur who has the potential to build innovative companies that can compete on a global scale and create new jobs for Canadians."

Singapore, Australia, Chile and the U.K. have all launched programs designed to attract foreign talent and investment, yet the Canadian program has two unusual qualifications.

First, the program covers the entire cost of investment, as long as the applicant secures funding from one of the venture capital funds or angel investment groups that are partners with the government.

In addition, the government offers permanent residency up front, a powerful incentive for immigrants. Universal health care, a multicultural society and a thriving economy don't hurt, either.

Studies also show that Canada is one of the easiest places to do business in the world.

"A Canadian visa is already a highly sought after item, and now the country is offering an even bigger incentive," said Marisa Feil, a Montreal-based immigration attorney. "I see this working well for the handful of people with big ideas who don't try to use it as an immigration strategy."

The USA has yet to implement a similar program of its own: the Startup Act 3.0 legislation introduced by Sens. Jerry Moran, Mark Warner, Chris Coons and Roy Blunt drew support from both sides of the aisle, but is currently stalled.

The law would create as many as 75,000 visas for immigrant entrepreneurs who invest or raise at least $100,000 for business ventures.

Aimee Thompson, 21, is a senior at Boston University who hopes to start her own business after graduates. Still, Thompson, a straight-A student from Australia, knows that she'll be fighting an uphill battle.

"Without immigration reform or more accessible work visas in this country, I think it's going to be impossible for me to get a green card and actually launch a business," said Thompson, who already has submitted visa applications for her studies, internships, and temporary post-grad work.

Thompson is among the record 765,495 international students who were enrolled in U.S. universities in the 2010-2011 academic years. Despite their education and training in the USA, many of these students will struggle to secure work visas in the country they've come to call home.

Without easy avenues for talented foreigners to launch businesses in this country, the USA is losing the battle for global talent, said Dan Letendre, CEO of Igloo, a Waterloo, Canada-based software startup.

"The U.S. should be following suit, and making it easier for immigrants to start businesses," said Letendre. "The Canadian government doesn't want our best talent leaking out to the U.S., so they're taking it a step further and bringing new talent in."

The USA does offer programs designed to attract immigrant entrepreneurs, such as the EB-5 program — any foreign investor who puts at least $500,000 into a business in the States, resulting in the creation of at least 10 domestic jobs in two years, gets a green card — yet the substantial financing requirements and a complex application process have dulled the initiative's impact.

"The United States is stuck in a administrative stalemate because creating a startup visa is only a piecemeal solution for our broken immigration system," said Ayda Aghami, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles. "I'm not sure that all the talented foreign entrepreneurs who are eager to start a new company can wait that long."

"Who knows — we may soon find ourselves called Ottawa 'Silicon Province,' " said Aghami.



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