A program that helps Asian immigrants start small and medium-sized businesses in British Columbia, creating hundreds of jobs and injecting tens of millions of dollars into the local economy, has wound to a close.
The "Business Immigrant Integration Support" program was started in 2012 by one of B.C.'s largest immigrant settlement agencies, known as Success, which has more than 400 employees and is headquartered on Vancouver's downtown eastside. It offered courses, mentorship opportunities and practical advice on how to set up, operate and improve various types of small businesses, such as restaurants and cafés.
"When the government wants to grow the economy, this is one way to maximize the potential of our newcomers," says Success chief executive officer Queenie Choo. "It's a win-win. It will help the economy."
Between the time it started and the time it lost its funding in April, 2015, the business integration program helped immigrant entrepreneurs start 109 businesses and create or maintain 612 jobs, with a total of more than $60-million invested in the provincial economy, according to Success.
During that period, the province provided roughly $3.1-million, which had been allocated by the federal government, according to the provincial Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills training. But in 2012, the federal government announced it would take back funding from B.C. and Manitoba – the two remaining provinces that ran their own settlement programs – and administer such programs itself. The Success program got its original funding back in 2012, and received an extension, but the money has now run out.
The ministry, in a statement, said it would have preferred to keep running its own immigration settlement programs, "as we have a better understanding of our local labour market and cultural conditions as well as the needs for newcomers to B.C.," a stance similar to the one Manitoba's premier took in 2012. The Success group may apply for new federal funding for the program, but as of now, the program is dormant and not taking any new applicants for courses or mentorships.
The service was geared toward a slightly wealthier set of immigrants, says Success program director Eliza Chang – not exactly what many think of as typical immigrants. Some still run successful businesses abroad, and may even have adequate English skills, but she says many still lack knowledge of local business laws and may lack the confidence to establish businesses that could benefit the province. Although there has been some controversy, locally, about wealth-based migration and Vancouver's soaring real estate prices – one prominent real estate firm estimated rich buyers with ties to China accounted for one-third of single, detached family home sales in Vancouver – Ms. Chang says the program is aimed at getting the most out of entrepreneurial immigrants who may otherwise stay isolated and unproductive.
Dr. Roy Rambing, a physician from Indonesia who immigrated to the U.S. before coming to Canada in 2014, says the program offered instant support and specific information on the province's laws and regulations.
"I attended seminars and workshops, and they were delivered by people who have done business here for a long time," Dr. Rambing said, noting that he saved both time and money. "If somebody has a plan to start a business, they need an organization that's focused, to guide them to hit the road as soon as possible."
Because of the advice Dr. Rambing got, he decided to take over an existing business, a beauty salon he now runs with his wife in Vancouver, rather than incorporate a new enterprise. He also received valuable aid that has helped him as he prepares to launch another business in vitamins, supplements and cosmetics, and eventually – after recertification – to open a medical practice.
Ling Zhang, another business-savvy migrant, arrived in Canada on the since-cancelled federal immigrant investor program in 2011 after building a successful logistics business with her husband in the major Chinese port city of Tianjin. She says that, like other wealthier Chinese immigrants she knows in Vancouver, she was successful in her home country and ambitious about the future, but had no idea how to start a business in British Columbia.
"There are lots of programs to help people with (Canadian) daily life and culture, but there is not much for business people," Ms. Zhang, 45, says.
After two years of English lessons and continuing to manage her Chinese business from here, she learned of the business integration course, and signed up – taking all of the available courses, and visiting various communities around B.C. that she had never heard of as part of the program that encouraged entrepreneurs to base businesses outside of Vancouver. She eventually decided to buy a marina on Vancouver Island from its retiring owner. She has kept on the sole employee there, and plans to make several improvements.
Some of her immigrant entrepreneur friends, she says, have become isolated in Vancouver after emigrating here, and don't have the local networks that could help them establish successful businesses in B.C.
"The new immigrants have big brains and are tech-savvy," Ms. Zhang says. "British Columbia should take advantage of these people and their talent. It could create more job opportunities."