Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Immigrant entrepreneurs sought under Canada’s new startup visa program

April 18, 2012 00:04:00
Nicholas Keung

Amid a global economic slowdown, Ottawa hopes to capitalize on its “rock-star” status by inviting innovative entrepreneurs abroad to bring their next big idea to Canada.

If you have a brilliant business plan and a Canadian investor who bets on your vision, Canada’s door is open for you, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday, floating the idea of a new “startup visa” program for foreign entrepreneurs.

“There is no doubt immigrants are among our most creative and successful entrepreneurs and investors. They are people who left behind what’s familiar to them in order to take a huge chance on an uncertain future to pursue their dreams,” Kenney said at a Toronto news conference.

“Entrepreneurs need to dream big and they can’t be afraid to take risks . . . We’d like to attract more of these bright innovators and entrepreneurs, who can create companies, hi-tech and other value-added businesses, that have the potential to create hundreds of jobs.”

However, Canada’s current immigrant entrepreneur program, established in the 1970s, is dated to an old economy and its low eligibility threshold — a $300,000 business venture in operation for a minimum two years — has managed to bring in mostly corner stores and mall kiosks.

While Ottawa plans to launch public consultations to iron out the logistics of the new program, Kenney said candidates would not need capital themselves as long as they had the backing of Canadian investors.

The federal government will cap the number of applications to be processed under the program to 2,750 a year and it is not known how many will be successfully admitted. It’s undecided if selected entrepreneurs will arrive on a conditional visa to work here or as permanent residents.

Kenney said he hopes to roll it out by the end of the year, outgunning the United States, where a similar plan has been tabled in Congress to facilitate the entry of immigrant entrepreneurs.

The proposed program has already won accolades from Canadian venture capitalists like Kevin O’Leary, co-host of the CBC TV business program, The Lang and O’Leary Exchange.

“We are the rock stars in the world today. There are very few countries that have our status,” said O’Leary, on hand to lend his support to the government plan.

“This is a huge opportunity for us because every entrepreneur who starts a business in Canada has to think global. We can’t depend on the North American market. Every strategy we build our business on has to be one servicing world economies.”

That’s where immigrant entrepreneurs come in, with their know-how and innovation to bridge Canadian investors with overseas markets.

“You get a world-class entrepreneur regardless of geography or nationality and can put him on a Canadian-invested idea. So we’ll be able to expand the number of great ideas,” O’Leary said.

“This is a fantastic idea for investors like me . . . I look at global concepts, bring them here and make them ours.”

Immigrant entrepreneurs admitted to Canada dropped sharply from 580 in 2007 to 184 last year. In anticipating the changes, the government stopped accepting new applications in July.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Canadian Immigration Minister wants to 'stop the madness' in immigration system

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Jason Kenney has had it with incremental measures.

“It frustrates the hell out of me,” the Immigration Minister told The Globe and Mail’s editorial board on Wednesday. “We're bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the country to end up, many of them, unemployed or underemployed in an economy where there are acute labour shortages.”
That’s how he justifies the federal Conservatives’ drastic plans for immigration – shifts in who comes here, and how, that the government is now pushing more urgently than before. Ottawa wants to transform the immigration system within a year and a half to allow international companies and Canadian professional organizations to assess the education and credentials of any would-be newcomer. Under the new system, employers, not bureaucrats, will decide who comes to Canada.
“Employers are going to do a much better job at selection than a passive bureaucracy,” he said, “because they can’t afford to recruit people to come to Canada who can’t work at their skill level on arrival.”

But to create the 21st century immigration system that he says Canada lacks, Mr. Kenney contends that the country first needs to deal with a staggering backlog. Last week, Ottawa announced that hundreds of thousands of people who have waited for years have been bumped from the skilled-worker application list. The move has appalled critics, prompting threats of class action lawsuits from immigration lawyers. But Mr. Kenney insists the plan, if harsh, is a lawful and necessary step to purge the immigration system and get it working again.

“We could continue with this incremental approach to backlog reduction and eventually by about 2018 we would get to a working inventory. By returning these applications now we’ll get to the working inventory in about 18 months’ time,” he said.

Mr. Kenney was also clear that implementing his idea of immigration means sending an unambiguous message about what he considers Canadian values – and that goes for people who want to take their citizenship oath wearing the niqab, a veil that covers the face.

“I'm not saying that wearing a niqab is barbaric. I am saying that the whole citizenship process is an opportunity for us to instill in people a sense of Canadian – read broadly, western liberal democratic – values, including the equality of men and women,” he said. “And I think most of us would regard a … tribal practice forcing women to cover their faces illiberal.”

Transforming Canada’s immigration system is a good idea, says Maytree Foundation president Ratna Omidvar – just a little belated.

“He's imagining a system that we should have had 10 years ago.”

Ms. Omidvar said she’s concerned, however, that a new emphasis on language skills will exclude the immigrants from emerging markets that Canada needs most. And, she argues, focusing on a perfect future immigration system will leave behind those newcomers who are already here, and struggling.
“The government needs to invest more resources in internships, in mentoring, in bridge training programs,” she said. “All this talk about fixing the system for the future takes our eyes off the ball.”

Mr. Kenney’s plan to ensure Canada primarily brings in people who can do well here and help the economy is a way to “stop the madness,” as he puts it, of having chronically underemployed immigrants when employers across the country face severe labour shortages. And he said it will allow Canada to better compete for the world's top talent up against not only Australia and New Zealand – “we’ve been letting them eat our lunch on this,” Mr. Kenney said – but also emerging powerhouses such as Brazil.

Critics have charged that the federal Conservatives’ approach is xenophobic, draconian or too market-driven. But Mr. Kenney argues Canada’s doing people a disservice by bringing them without a shot at a decent job.

“To string them along for years as they get stuck in survival jobs, as their skills deteriorate and they deplete their savings, is almost inhumane.”

One fundamental challenge is Canada’s balkanized system of professional credentials.
It’s tough to ensure the engineers coming to Canada meet the Canadian definition of “engineer,” Mr. Kenney said, when there isn't one – when each province has its own professional body and system of evaluating qualifications.

In January, 2009, the provinces agreed to sit down and hash out these differences. Three years and $50-million later, nine professions have come up with matching processes. Another six are in the works. Mr. Kenney’s ultimate goal is to set up national groups to assess immigrants’ credentials before they show up. At the same time, he’s about to put out a call for companies to do a similar pre-assessment of international education.

“Dropping immigrants into our labour market to sink or swim, even if they really don’t have a reasonable shot at getting their licence, it’s a waste of human capital. It’s an opportunity cost for our economy,” he says. “So by creating a better qualified pool of prospective immigrants who are going to have much higher rates of success in getting their licenses, they will all do much better.”