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Mar 13, 2019

Selecting Immigrant Entrepreneurs for the 21st-Century Economy

On November 27 and 28, 2018, The Conference Board of Canada hosted its second Entrepreneur & Investor Immigration Summit in Ottawa. The 260 delegates at the Summit explored how business immigration can better support economic development in Canada. The impetus for the event is that while Canada has welcomed business immigrants since 1978, it continues to experience a myriad of challenges that are limiting its ability to spur economic development and job creation.

Green and Spiegel’s managing senior partner, Stephen Green, featured heavily throughout the summit and highlighted areas where Canada’s federal and provincial/territorial governments can improve immigrant entrepreneurial growth. Specifically, Stephen believes that the two levels of government should broaden their programming to appeal to a larger array of entrepreneur and investor candidates.

There have been challenges for immigrant entrepreneurs when trying to meet certain criteria under the entrepreneur programs. Even though a potential applicant may have the coveted capital or entrepreneurial and business experience, the existing entrepreneurial programs are not always available to them, due to the scope of the available programs and the selection criteria. Stephen gave an example of a candidate who is a successful business owner in her home country but never completed post-secondary education. Despite her experience, high net worth, and desire to invest in Canada, she would be rejected because she missed one requirement.

Rather than focusing on selection criteria such as language proficiency, which is arguably less helpful in predicting the success of immigrant entrepreneurs, the two levels of government should get

the private sector more involved in vetting candidates and business plans. Moreover, business groups such as incubators and chambers of commerce should make formal commitments to support an immigrant entrepreneur’s business establishment.

Stephen highlighted a potential avenue for facilitating greater entrepreneurial immigration to Canada which involves introducing additional federal programs to account for i) people in Canada with self-employed work experience, ii) young innovators with little to no investment capital or business/management experience, and iii) older foreign nationals who have accumulated significant wealth and business/management experience but who may not be selected from the pools of candidates due to their age.

Stephen also argued that one way to facilitate entrepreneurship in Canada may be to introduce a new Federal macro investor program. Under a new macro investor pilot program, investors who are seeking to immigrate to Canada but who do not wish to be engaged with the micro-level, day-to-day operations of a business, could direct their funds towards specific priorities that do not offer traditional security or return potential, such as early stage tech companies.

The EB-5 American Visa provides a useful template for Canada to build on for a new federal Immigrant Investor Program (IIP). Stephen highlighted what he deems to be negative elements of the EB-5 that Canada could learn from in designing a new federal IIP. Most EB-5 investments are real estate projects rather than riskier sectors that can create larger economic benefits and more jobs, such as green energy and technology start-ups.

A new federal investor program in Canada could eliminate problems with the American EB-5 visa while implementing positive features like developing an at-risk model with project developers, subject to government approval and oversight, if they wish to solicit immigrant investors. The federal and provincial/territorial governments should encourage investments in key sectors such as green energy and technology start-ups and identify how it can encourage immigrant investors to build a life in communities across the country.

Providing a variety of investment options can help different areas of the economy. To fund riskier sectors, the federal government could allow financing (i.e., immigrant investors make a non-refundable down payment as has been commonplace with the QIIP and the old IIP) while less-risky projects (e.g., infrastructure) would be funded by those who provide the full investment amount.

For additional information regarding current business and entrepreneurial immigration options, please contact Stephen Green at stepheng@gands.com 

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