Canada’s Startup Visa: And Now, the Hard Sell

In case you missed it, Jason Kenney was just on tour in California. He’s not a teen heartthrob, a hip-hop idol, or an author hawking his latest book. He’s the Canadian Immigration Minister, and he recently made the rounds in Silicon Valley, hoping to convince some of our top immigrant talent to start new businesses north of the border.

Some weeks ago, we discussed Mr. Kenney’s efforts to attract more immigrant entrepreneurs to Canada through a new startup visa program. [See Canada Launches Startup Visa Program; U.S. Efforts Still in the Works, MurthyBlog, 12.Apr.2013.]  “Efforts to attract” is putting it mildly. Some were more blunt: National Public Radio and Canada’s Financial Post called Mr. Kenney’s trip an attempt to “poach” foreign high tech workers from Silicon Valley – workers “fed up with the visa process that they must follow to remain in the U.S.,” as NPR reported. [See Canada Tries to Poach High-Tech Workers From The U.S., Morning Edition, National Public Radio, 20.May.2013.]  and Canada Looks to Poach Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs Struggling with U.S. Immigration Woes, by Tobi Cohen, Financial Post, 13.May.2013.]

“Poaching” may be the most appropriate thing to call it, because there’s no mistaking Mr. Kenney’s intent. As the Financial Post reported:

“To coincide with his visit, the government also took out a four-meter by 14-meter billboard on Hwy. 101 connecting San Francisco and Silicon Valley, urging those struggling to obtain a foreign worker visa to ‘pivot to Canada’ where they can benefit from the new start-up visa as well as ‘low taxes.'”

That said, Silicon Valley has yet to see its best and brightest stampeding for the border. Applications for the Canadian program are being funneled through three approved angel investor groups; the head of one such group told the Financial Post that he’s received more than 100 applications from entrepreneurs in China, South America and Europe, but “has yet to receive a single one from an applicant in Silicon Valley.” The article reports similar feedback from one of the 20 or so venture capital firms that’s working on the start-up visa project; according to the Financial Post, a Montreal-based VC firm said they have “received about 112 applications from would-be entrepreneurs in Israel, China, France, Croatia, and Brazil,” mostly what the managing partner termed “noise” rather than viable business prospects.

For the moment, Canada’s program remains small in scale: only 2,750 visas per year will be available for startup entrepreneurs and their dependents. Moreover, the Financial Post reports that Canadian immigration authorities are “still working through a backlog of applications involving nearly 10,000 would-be entrepreneurs and their dependents who applied under the old system,” noting that, “Last year, the government processed 1,098 of them and Kenney said it’ll be nine years before that backlog is resolved.”

In other words, nothing to worry about yet, but Congress should take this as a warning shot, a sign that Canada’s high-tech talent rustlers mean business!

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