Why skilled immigrants aren’t coming to Canada
Canada’s new “startup visa” will requires other reforms to make a real difference.
However odd and unpredictable the weather may be this spring, there are some basic tenets of gardening that never change. For example, if you want to upgrade your flower beds by transplanting new growth, you'd better make sure that the soil, light, moisture and other basic elements are in place to ensure the plants thrive.
That's certainly something that the federal government — and especially Immigration Minister Jason Kenney — need to consider carefully with the launch of the new "startup visa" program."
It's one thing to aspire to a lush beds of ever-blooming immigrant entrepreneurs, and quite another to ensure the conditions exist to adequately support them. All the good intentions in the world won't help people — or their capital — root and flourish otherwise.
If Canada wants to do better at innovation and nurturing seedling companies that grow fast and strong, there's going to have to be more reform than it appears Mr. Kenney is proposing.
After all, other countries are already well down this road (Chile, Singapore, Britain and the U.S. among them), with competitive talent-enticing immigration policies. And make no mistake, this is a very competitive, international game.
There are several conflicting realities that need to be addressed to ensure that any immigration policy reforms actually deliver what's needed.
So far, hard details are fairly scant. The general idea is that after submitting a detailed business plan that's vetted by business groups and "credible" venture capitalists, entrepreneurs will be fast-tracked to enter Canada. Once here, they — and their money — will be mentored by those with experience in Canada and in their specific business sector.
(Presumably, one early lesson the new arrivals will be taught is that the term "angel investor" is often an extravagant misnomer. Venture capitalists are exceedingly tough about the terms they impose for their high-risk loans — and their exit strategies can often be problematic for a new enterprise.)
Started as a five-year trial, the startup visa program would double the existing limit on the entrepreneur class of immigrants to 2,750. It's not quite clear what happens to the seven-year backlog of applications that now exists, but if those people are ditched after all that time, it's a breach of trust.
It all sounds terribly progressive, but it addresses a very small corner of Canada's immigration conundrum. If the federal government is genuinely committed to upping the game and making Canada a more vibrant, innovative and competitive nation, it's got a much bigger row to hoe.
The entrepreneurs are a high-profile and relatively easy piece of the puzzle. But achieving a genuine shift toward a more innovative national culture is a bigger task — with bigger problems.
It's generally accepted that by 2030 Canada will rely almost exclusively on immigrants to sustain population growth. It's also understood that, nevertheless, there's an absurd backlog of highly skilled applicants waiting to get into Canada.
If and when they run the bureaucratic gauntlet and make their way into Canada, the real challenges start. Highly qualified professionals may be forgiven for assuming they should prosper in a nation that chronically laments its shortage of skilled and trained workers. It's not an assumption that lasts for long.
This country's record for integrating skilled immigrants is abysmal. And at a time when the countries from which many emigrate are becoming economic powerhouses, the opportunity to tap into the talent — and the numbers — may dwindle quickly.
Who wants to move to a place where (according to TD Bank economists), immigrants make an average of 61 cents for every dollar a Canadian makes to do the same job?
Those relocation woes are uniquely Canadian because they are the direct result of a split in federal and provincial jurisdiction. Every province and territory has its own patchwork of program and policy criteria that are designed to suit its specific needs.
At least as problematic is the fact that professional accreditation authority rests with the provinces. And that can make licensing and mobility between provinces problematic, to say the least.
Given that we a) need to bolster our numbers thanks to a low birthrate and an aging population; b) need to compete with other countries — including emerging markets — for top talent, it might be time to develop a more transparent, coherent and credible approach to immigration.
In true Canada fashion, Mr. Kenney is undertaking a series of consultations with various business and professional groups. Given the fractured nature of this file, he doesn't have much choice.
What everyone involved in the process needs to understand, however, is that few other countries have the same culture of talking things over — and over and over. And they are the countries with which Canada is competing.
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