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Give Canada’s visiting brains a boost Add to ...

To the taxi-driver-with-the-PhD, add a new metaphor for Canada's immigration system – the entrepreneur with the one-way ticket home. People who don't have the capital themselves, but can prove there is money (and the promise of job creation) behind their idea, should be welcomed to Canada, and this country needs to consider rule changes to let them stay.

As reported by Joe Friesen in Friday's Globe, Canada is turning away too many people of promise. Romanians Mircea Pasoi and Cristian Strat have venture capital support for their software start-up, but not the required $300,000 in personal assets to qualify as potential immigrants under the federal entrepreneurship program.

The capital requirements aren't the only deterrent. Other things that entrepreneurs value – speed, flexibility – are missing in the program, which can take as long as eight years to consider a visa application. Jason Kenney, the Immigration Minister, was right to put a moratorium on new applications and to order a review of the program.

Canada has both human capital and financial capital. But it is not so good at finding connectors who can bring new ideas and existing cash together to create businesses and jobs. That is a special group, and application forms alone won't bring such entrepreneurs to the fore – it takes their presence in Canada, and then, a demonstrated ability to convince investors.

Addressing research-oriented entrepreneurship is especially important because our existing leadership has let us fall behind: The “State of the Nation 2010” report of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council recently found that “from 2007 to 2009 Canadian industry research and development declined further in both current and real dollar terms.” And from 2000 to 2007, “information and communications technology investment intensity was less than half of U.S. levels.”

So reform is needed, and one idea worth considering is the Start-Up Visa, in which entrepreneurs (often recent university graduates) could get a work permit if they have a given amount of venture capital backing. We have a competitive interest in this; legislation to create such a visa has already been tabled in the U.S. Congress, and would have a good chance of passing once that country recovers from its economic malaise.

In economic terms, we often think of immigration as a way to fill jobs and put existing skills to good use in Canada. Let's not forget that entrepreneurship and innovation, in and of themselves, are skills we need more of.

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