Canada Launches Startup Visa Program; U.S. Efforts Still in the Works

There’s a lot of talk on Capitol Hill, just now, about building an immigration system that will enhance our economic competitiveness. Now our neighbors to the north have directed a well-timed slap shot into the midst of all this Congressional jawboning: on April 1st, Canada launched a Startup Visa program that’s designed to attract more foreign entrepreneurs.

When Canadian Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, announced the new program in January, a government press release said it will “link immigrant entrepreneurs with private sector organizations in Canada that have experience working with start-ups and who can provide essential resources,” like access to business incubators. [See News Release – Historic New Immigration Program to Attract Job Creators to Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 24.Jan.2013.]

The big draw? The Canadian startup program will provide permanent residency to a select group of foreign entrepreneurs, but not without hurdles. According to The Globe and Mail, the program “is designed to fast-track permanent residency for immigrant entrepreneurs who are able to secure funding from designated Canadian investors, as well as meet certain language and education criteria.” [See New Visa Program Aims to Lure Top Foreign Entrepreneurs, by Brenda Bouw, The Globe and Mail, 02.Apr.2013.] However, the investment threshold is low for aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs: “a minimum investment of [CDN] $200,000 from one of the designated venture-capital funds, or a minimum investment of $75,000 from one of the angel-investor groups,” according to The Globe and Mail.

The downside? The scale of the Canadian startup program will be modest, at least initially. The Globe and Mail reports that, “Ottawa has set aside 2,750 visas a year for startup entrepreneurs and their families.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, a far more ambitious immigrant startup visa proposal has been circulating for months, but remains on the Congressional drawing board. Dubbed the Startup Act 3.0, the legislation would create Entrepreneur and STEM visas to attract bright and entrepreneurial immigrants to the United States, and help them stay here by giving them permanent residency if they meet certain requirements. Among other things, the measure also would abolish the per-country caps for employment-based immigrant visas. [See Startup Act 3.0 Introduced by Sens. Moran, Warner, Coons, and Blunt, Press Release, Office of Senator Jerry Moran, 13.Feb.2013.]

According to the sponsor of the measure, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), the Entrepreneur Visa “would be available to a fixed pool of 75,000 foreign-born individuals who already hold H1B visas or F-1 student visas and who start companies in the United States. In the first year of business, these entrepreneurs would be required to employ at least two full-time, non-family workers and to invest or raise an investment of $100,000 or more.” [See Startup Act 3.0 Provision Could Create up to 1.6 Million American Jobs, Press Release, Office of Senator Jerry Moran, 27.Feb.2013.]

The Startup Act 3.0 has support from business advocates, especially in the technology sector, and was hailed in a recent study from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which said, “Our calculations suggest that a Startup Visa could create anywhere from 500,000 to 1.6 million jobs over the next ten years,” depending on the assumptions behind each of three projected scenarios. [See Give Me Your Entrepreneurs, Your Innovators: Estimating the Employment Impact of a Startup Visa, by Dane Stangler and Jared Konczal, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Feb.2013.]

What remains to be seen is whether any – or all – of the Startup Act 3.0 will make it into the final version of the comprehensive immigration reform bill – the version the House and Senate actually vote on, ultimately – but there’s no question that Congress will have to address both the STEM and startup issues carefully. Canada is not alone in providing special inducements to highly desirable immigrants; their efforts are of a piece with those of Chile, Australia, and several other nations, all of which are seeking to attract the best and brightest workers to their shores.

The take-home message for Congress: there is fierce international competition to attract the world’s entrepreneurs, innovators, and high-tech workers. For the United States to remain competitive, we need to start with the recognition that we’re no longer the only game in town. Our immigration policies should reflect this, and provide a world-class welcome to foreign entrepreneurs!

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.