The federal government is creating a new visa program to lure budding foreign entrepreneurs to Canada.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the program, known as the Business Incubator stream, will help drive economic growth.
“This government does support business incubation. We know it’s the only way to stay ahead of competitors,” he told a breakfast gathering hosted by the Canadian Association of Business Incubation in Toronto on Monday.
The program is the latest example of the Conservative government’s involvement of the private sector in the country’s immigration system.
“It will be very difficult for someone who’s not a real entrepreneur with a bona fide idea to get very far in this program and we as a government don’t want to get into the business of picking winners in what is a totally private-sector driven field,” Mr. Alexander told reporters.
The Business Incubator stream will be launched under the existing Start-Up Visa Program, which fast-tracks permanent residency for immigrant entrepreneurs who are able to secure funding from designated Canadian investors. The five-year pilot program, which was announced in the spring, has a ceiling of 2,750 applications a year.
Ottawa will partner with Canadian Association of Business Incubation to designate eligible business incubator and accelerator programs. Five such programs from across the country will be announced on Saturday, when the program will begin accepting applications, said Ed Hobbs, CEO of CABI.
Foreign entrepreneurs will apply directly to incubator and accelerator programs, which will evaluate proposals and provide recommendations to CIC on whether to approve their immigration applications. The final determination will be made by Ottawa.
“This program is designed to attract high-growth potential firms to Canada that could reach both domestic markets and, potentially in time, international markets,” said Michael Donahue, vice-president of CABI. “We’re hoping to attract businesses that in fact will create jobs and opportunities for Canadians.”
The program does not specify a minimum amount of money that foreign entrepreneurs are expected to provide. “There’s no investment required at all,” Mr. Alexander said.
However, Mr. Donahue said business incubators and accelerators would review funding as part of their due diligence.
“We anticipate that, and we expect that, the foreign entrepreneurs that come to Canada will have some funds of their own to ensure that the business gets off to a very viable start,” he said.
Mr. Donahue said business incubators and accelerators would likely review applications in two to four weeks. If applicants are accepted, a letter of commitment would be forwarded to CIC. Mr. Alexander declined to specify how long CIC would take to review applications, but Mr. Donahue said the department has said the process would take three to six months.
“We want to move at the speed of business,” Mr. Donahue said.
Business Incubator stream applicants can come in teams of up to five partners, Mr. Donahue said. There are no minimum language requirements, but Mr. Alexander said those with good English and French language skills would have a better chance of success.