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Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, right, watches Kevin O'Leary, founder of O'Leary Ventures, speak during the announcement of the launch of consultations on whether to create a new specialized program to attract immigrant entrepreneurs, at a news conference in Toronto on Wednesday April 18, 2012.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, right, watches Kevin O'Leary, founder of O'Leary Ventures, speak during the announcement of the launch of consultations on whether to create a new specialized program to attract immigrant entrepreneurs, at a news conference in Toronto on Wednesday April 18, 2012.

Business

Tories launch bid to speed up immigration for entrepreneurs Add to ...

Ottawa is starting consultations with industry groups and immigrant settlement organizations across the country to develop a new “startup-visa program” to fast track immigration of entrepreneurs.

“Canada cannot afford to lose out in the competition for foreign entrepreneurs among immigrant-receiving countries,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.

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His announcement in Toronto on Wednesday was attended by venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary, chairman of O’Leary Ventures, who called it a “huge opportunity” to develop global companies based in Canada. “It creates a way to reduce Canada’s dependence on growth in the slow-recovering North American economy,” Mr. O’Leary said.

The government’s plan is innovative because it involves the business and investment community identifying potential high-growth startups, said Victoria Lennox, co-founder of non-profit advocacy group Startup Canada, who got a heads-up about the plan on Tuesday in Ottawa.

Who are they looking to attract?

Immigrant entrepreneurs with an innovative business plan in areas such as technology, energy and resources that can compete on a global scale and create jobs in Canada. Job creation and growth potential will be the key goals, Mr. Kenney said.

Unlike the former entrepreneur program and provincial nominee programs, there’s no requirement that entrepreneurs put up a minimum investment. But Mr. Kenney has said he believes there are many millionaires overseas who see Canada as a better place to set up shop than their home countries. “These people are very mobile and if they are in a long queue as they were in the past, they will go somewhere else,” he added.

What’s new?

Applicants must prepare a business plan to be vetted by industry groups and venture capitalists for viability. On arrival, entrepreneurs would receive mentorship from organizations that have experience working with startups on how to do business in Canada. “Linking immigrant entrepreneurs with private-sector organizations that have experience and expertise working with startups will be important, as newcomers often require outside assistance to successfully navigate the Canadian business environment,” Mr. Kenney said.

What are other countries doing?

In the United States, proposed startup legislation would allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two-year visa if he or she can show that a qualified U.S. investor is willing to help fund the immigrant’s venture. The plan, however, has met political resistance from groups that are worried immigrants will take jobs from unemployed Americans. In February, the U.S. government announced a program to encourage immigrant students who are already in the country to start up businesses rather than return to their home countries upon graduation.

New Zealand created an “entrepreneur-plus visa” in 2009 that fast tracks immigrants who can invest at least $500,000 (NZ) in a business and employ three people. Mr. Kenney pointed to it as an example of a program that’s working well.

In Britain, a “prospective entrepreneurs” class of visa introduced in 2011 allows immigrants to enter the country and secure funding and start setting up their businesses before they begin the traditional visa process.

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BY THE NUMBERS

2,750 – Number of startup visa applications to be accepted annually for five years.

1,000 to 1,500 – Number of immigrant entrepreneurs admitted annually under former entrepreneur-class immigration program.

7 years – Backlog of applications under former immigration program that ended last July.

5 years – Life of the pilot program, which could be extended if it proves successful.

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