Canadian immigration's 'Dragons' Den' visa goes live

Canada's new Start-up Visa Program (SUVP) was launched on April 1st 2013. The new visa allows foreign entrepreneurs to pitch their idea to a panel of Canadian investors. If the investors choose to make 'a significant investment', then the entrepreneur concerned will be granted a permanent resident visa by the Canadian immigration authorities. 2,750 visas will be available in the first year.

Canadian immigration minister Jason Kenney says that he hopes that the new visa will boost the number of Canadian business start-ups. When he announced the SUVP in January, Mr Kenney said 'Recruiting dynamic entrepreneurs from around the world will help Canada remain competitive in the global economy.'

Applicants under the SUVP will need to pitch their business plan to a panel of potential investors, as in the globally popular TV show, the Dragons' Den. If they attract a minimum of CAN$25,000 in 'angel funding' from an approved Canadian venture capital or investment firm or a minimum of CAN$75,000 in 'venture funding' then, subject to immigration checks, they will get a permanent resident visa. If their business fails, they will retain their permanent resident status.

Kenney 'I will go to Silicon Valley to fly the flag'

Canada is known to be keen to compete with its southern neighbour, the US, as a destination for internet entrepreneurs. The global centre for IT start-ups is in Silicon Valley in San Francisco, north California but Mr Kenney hopes that this new visa will help it lure entrepreneurs from outside North America to set up in Canada instead. In January, Mr Kenney told reporters, 'When this thing (The SUVP) gets launched, I plan to go down to Silicon Valley with some of the industry associations here and fly the Canadian flag'. Mr Kenney is due to travel to San Francisco in May.

There is already a well-established tech industry in Canada with clusters of IT firms in Toronto, Waterloo, Montreal and Vancouver. Atlee Clark of C100, a Canadian not-for-profit organisation which aims to help IT entrepreneurs told American tech magazine VentureBeat, 'the government is betting that these founders will got to Canada, start a business, hire a whole bunch of people and stay for the long haul'.

Canada may be assisted in this goal by the fact that, in recent years it has become harder to get a US permanent resident visa (or green card) because demand outstrips supply. There are waiting lists of over ten years for some employment based green cards for applicants from India and China. Canada hopes that the SUVP will encourage those migrants to choose Canada instead, not least because there will be an offer of an almost instant permanent resident visa and a fast route to citizenship.

US immigration regime driving entrepreneurs to Canada - Wadhwa

Indian born US author Vivek Wadhwa published a book in 2012 with the title The Immigrant Exodus: Why America is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. In the book he said that it has become harder for immigrants to get green cards in the US and this has damaged the competitiveness of US business. He warned that more welcoming immigration regimes in other countries such as Canada were driving entrepreneurial emigrants elsewhere.

Mr Wadhwa is one of many high profile US citizens to call on US politicians to reform the US immigration system to make it easier for skilled migrants to get visas. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and many other high profile businessmen have called for more green cards and more H-1B temporary work visas to be granted to talented foreign graduates. There is currently a cap of 65,000 on H-1Bs and the number of employment based green cards is also capped.

Skilled US immigration bills in the pipeline

There are currently several bills before Congress which would see the annual number of green cards granted to skilled foreigners before Congress.

Among them are

  • The Immigration Innovation Act which would see up to 300,000 H-1B visas granted annually and would increase the number of green cards granted to foreign graduates of US universities
  • The Startup 3.0 act would grant up to 75,000 green cards to foreign entrepreneurs who can attract $100,000 of start-up capital from US investors and another 50,000 green cards granted to elite graduates of US universities
  • The comprehensive immigration reform planned by a bipartisan group of senators known as The Gang of Eight would also see an increase in the number of green cards granted to graduates as well as a reduction in waiting times for green cards for applicants who want to work in the US.

President Obama has said that he hopes to see immigration reform passed by the senate by the end of summer 2013.

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