Ottawa plans to replace the immigrant entrepreneur program it shelved last year with a new system aimed at identifying and speeding the path for “high value innovators,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says.
The previous program, in place for a decade, “was administratively very burdensome and underwhelming in terms of the results.” When it was suspended last July, it had a backlog of nearly 10,000 applicants, and with an average of about 1,000 to 1,500 approvals a year it would have taken nearly eight years to clear, even without new applications. What will happen to the older files when the new program is launched remains unclear, Mr. Kenney said in an interview.
Potential immigrants with experience and the ability to set up a small business would still be encouraged to apply, he said. But the new program, which he hopes to officially announce by the end of the year – after consultations with industry groups – will encourage immigrants “who can do much more in terms of adding value to the economy than opening up a convenience store.”
“We want the next Bill Gates or the next Steve Jobs. We want those folks with the brilliant ideas that are going to generate sustainable jobs for a long time to come,” Mr. Kenney said. “We want to create a policy which is more likely to attract entrepreneurs in areas like technology, energy and environmental innovations. These areas have a lot more potential than just running a kiosk at the mall.”
The new program will be in addition to existing categories in provincial nominee programs, which take applications from potential entrepreneurs who want to live and set up a business in their provinces, and send them to Ottawa for fast tracking, Mr. Kenney said.
The provincial nominee programs had become an approach of choice for would-be immigrant entrepreneurs even before the federal application window was shut, said immigration consultant Deepak Kohli, of Transcend Consultants in Brampton, Ont.
For several years it had become clear that Ottawa was uncomfortable with the old program, Mr. Kohli explained. “The bar was always being raised. They were requiring more documentation and quite slow in responding. They wanted financial statements and then required audited statements and then reviews of statements by particular auditors.”
The provincial programs have been much faster, he said. “They required four to five months compared to five years or longer under the federal program.”
The new federal approach has merit, he said. “There's value in selecting business people who can create job incubators in Canada. The trick lies in making Canada attractive for these individuals, processing their applications quickly and providing the right environment for growth of ideas, including easy availability of research facilities and workers, so that they can hit the ground running.”
A change in the system that could result in greater success rates for small start-ups would be to encourage newcomers to work with an existing company before setting out on their own, said Sarah Wayland, an employment and settlement consultant in Hamilton, who wrote a study about immigrants who started businesses in Ontario.
“I’m pleased to hear there will be a new program, but I am a bit wary because my research has found that people need to be in Canada a while in order to identify with the culture and build a successful business,” she said. Of 65 immigrant business people she surveyed anonymously in a recent report for the Toronto-based Maytree Foundation, none had come in under the federal entrepreneur program. They immigrated under other categories and started businesses after getting established.
“There have been many failures under the entrepreneur class because they were expected to just come to Canada and immediately buy or open a business,” she said. “The research shows that people who tend to succeed the best had been here a while getting ‘Canadian experience’ and often finding a mentor in their field before starting their business.
“They use the time to improve their language skills, learn Canadian ways of doing business and develop a network, so that when they do start their business they are more sure of themselves and are offering something that people will want.”