Since 1978, Canada has operated various business immigration programs to attract entrepreneurs and investors. While business immigration programs are guided by the straightforward rationale of attracting those who will help grow Canada’s economy, the programs have had mixed success. It’s not difficult to understand why.
As any hiring manager will tell you, while a candidate may appear ‘perfect’, they sometimes do not live up to expectations. Immigration is very much the same. And things become much more complex for governments when they try to select the ‘perfect’ immigrant entrepreneur. Launching and sustaining a successful business is an uphill battle for any Canadian. Now imagine what it is like for an immigrant entrepreneur: you are trying to perfect your English or French, develop your social and professional networks, and learn more about Canada’s business environment. What a daunting task!
Investor immigration programs pose another set of issues. While the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program continues to operate and is widely believed to benefit the province’s economy, its federal counterpart was terminated in 2014 after being on the market since 1986 (another program, the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Pilot Program, was introduced soon after, but the program received just six applications over the first few months of operation). Proponents of investor immigration programs argue they draw capital and experienced business persons to Canada. Detractors question the extent to which they support economic growth, and raise other concerns such as the commitment of investor immigrants to establishing in Canada.
While getting business immigration ‘right’ is no easy feat, Canada is well-positioned to become a global leader in the field. At a time when anti-immigrant sentiments are high around the world, Canada remains open to immigrants, and will increase immigration levels moving forward to replenish the four to five million Canadians set to retire over the next two decades. Moreover, Canada’s rich immigration history gives the country plenty of experience and evidence to draw upon to improve its business immigration programs.
Selection criteria should be different for immigrant entrepreneurs. Rather than selecting entrepreneurs based on traditional human capital factors such as language proficiency, education, and work experience, governments should place greater focus on the viability of an immigrant entrepreneur’s business proposal. Using traditional human capital factors to select business immigrants has several limitations. For instance, today, many of the world’s top entrepreneurs are very young, and while they may not have much work experience or multiple educational credentials, they have the ideas, skills, and pedigree to succeed as 21st century entrepreneurs.
Perhaps government and private sector representatives could review proposals together prior to offering an entrepreneur the chance to move to Canada. And rather than offering permanent residence right off the bat, Canada’s governments could give the entrepreneur a window to prove success (e.g. 2-4 years). If the entrepreneur’s business proves viable — it looks set to be profitable, and creates jobs — their time as a temporary resident would count towards their eligibility for Canadian citizenship. Conversely, should the business fail to materialize, the entrepreneur’s Canadian temporary work permit would expire and they would leave Canada or choose to apply to a new immigration program.
Creating a new and successful federal investor immigration program would need to include two major elements. First, Canada would need to identify the required investment amount that would help promote economic growth and would be globally competitive—currently, many countries offer investor immigration programs. America’s EB-5 program, for example, gives an immigrant investor the opportunity to obtain a green card for an investment of as little as $500,000 USD. Canada would also have to determine how the money is spent—should it be used to support infrastructure, SMEs, and/or social causes such as refugee resettlement?
Secondly, and more importantly, the federal government would need to communicate the benefits to Canadians. The former immigrant investor program was surrounded by a lot of negative publicity. Some of it was fair. However, given that investor immigration has the potential to draw many billions of dollars to Canada, it is worth considering the merits of establishing a new program, and informing the public of how it could support Canada’s prosperity.
Kareem El-Assal is a Research Associate for Education and Immigration for the Conference Board of Canada.
Having previously worked for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Kareem leads research for the Conference Board’s National Immigration Centre. He also researches for the Conference Board’s Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education. Kareem has researched for the Canadian Arab Institute, the NATO Association of Canada, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, and the International Service for Human Rights in Switzerland.
On December 6-7, 2016, The Conference Board of Canada is hosting the country’s first ever Entrepreneur & Investor Immigration Summit in Toronto. The Summit is convening delegates from across Canada and as far as Asia, Europe, and the Middle East to explore how Canada can improve its business immigration programs. Join us to learn, network, and shape the future of business immigration!
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