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Immigrants fill jobs but they also create them. While all immigrants have the potential to contribute to the economy through participation in the labour force, those who come in as entrepreneurs have the potential to expand job opportunities.

However, the biggest challenge of Canada’s entrepreneur immigration programs has been identifying metrics that will best predict an immigrant entrepreneur’s success. While we know that youth, high levels of education and language proficiency, and bonuses such as prearranged employment and Canadian experience help predict the success of skilled workers, it’s not as easy to do the same for immigrant entrepreneurs for a variety of reasons—especially as entrepreneurship is highly challenging for Canadians and immigrants alike.

The launch of the Start-up Visa (SUV) Program in 2013 by the federal government was a paradigm shift in Canada’s approach to selecting entrepreneurs. Rather than focusing on traditional metrics such as an immigrant entrepreneur’s business experience, net worth, and the amount of investment they would make in Canada, the SUV seeks entrepreneurs who have high human capital and are vetted by the Canadian business community. While promising, the program’s low intake suggests that there is a need for new entrepreneur programming under federal and provincial streams to attract more innovative entrepreneurs to Canada.

The key question is: What metrics could help the federal government and the provinces/territories best predict the success of entrepreneurs?

As a first step, one may want to begin by asking: Why is it that some immigrant entrepreneurs do not succeed in Canada? Common barriers include a lack of social and professional networks, weak language skills, lack of a credit score, no mentorship, and little or no information about government support.

In the face of such barriers, it may be useful to have selection criteria that draw from what we know about what predicts the success of skilled workers and to include other metrics that are important in Canada’s 21st-century economy. Hence, focusing recruiting young and educated entrepreneurs who are highly proficient in English or French could help. Moreover, innovative selection criteria such as whether an entrepreneur has a STEM background, valuable intellectual property, and peer-reviewed publications could be used. Such selection criteria reform could go hand in hand with the training of immigration decision-makers—who could work in concert with their government colleagues from economic development agencies—to adequately assess these metrics. Additionally, just like the Start-up Visa, a process could be implemented to enable the private sector to have a say in vetting applicants.

Once entrepreneurs arrive in Canada, a grace period of about one year could be offered—giving them time to find their footing in Canada. After the grace period, immigrant entrepreneurs would have up to two years to prove they can succeed, after which the federal government could decide whether or not to facilitate the transition from temporary to permanent residence.

Helping entrepreneurs develop their social and professional networks would ease their transition into the Canadian business environment. This support could be in the form of the mentorship programs modelled after those that are currently offered across Canada as well as formal in-class instruction dedicated to helping immigrant entrepreneurs succeed. The development of these mentorship programs should incorporate feedback from settlement organizations, business communities, and established, successful entrepreneurs.

Another potentially useful tool could be matching immigrant entrepreneurs with private sector venture and angel investors. While venture capitalists and angels might be overly cautious about investing in immigrant entrepreneurs since it is very risky to do so, there might be a potential for the federal government to match investments made by private equity groups in order to incentivize the recruitment of innovative immigrants to Canada.

Canada’s economy stands to benefit greatly from efforts to attract and support innovative immigrant entrepreneurs. Canadian immigration policies are often reformed to address the country’s evolving economic needs. Creative responses to challenges facing immigration policy-makers in designing good entrepreneur programs would continue this tradition, to the benefit of communities across Canada.

Ali Bajwa
Research Intern

Entrepreneur & Investor Immigration Summit 2018

The Conference Board is hosting its second Entrepreneur & Investor Immigration Summit in Ottawa on November 27–28, 2018. Make sure to attend Canada’s only conference on business immigration to learn and network with some 250 attendees from around the world!