Canada, U.S. Compete over Foreign Talent

Canada and US Reform Plans set to lure Next Generation Business Owners

By Imogen Grace Whittaker, Staff Writer

Image Courtesy of: biocareers.com

Image Courtesy of: biocareers.com

It is a new era for skilled workers looking to make North America their home.

In January, U.S. President Barack Obama spearheaded a bipartisan effort that sought to address the new demand for skilled immigrants. It also makes visa application easier for foreign technology and science graduates from American universities.

In Ottawa, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney promised to launch a new visa program on April 1 that will make permanent residency easier for foreign entrepreneurs.  This will “help Canada remain competitive in the global economy” and invigorate Canada’s tech sector,” says Kenney.

Both proposed plans are intended to streamline and enhance the current immigration systems. The U.S. currently has 11 million undocumented immigrants, while many of Canada’s applications for temporary worker visas have waited up to a decade to be processed.

Why the sudden openness to foreigners? [pullquote]We see the bright, young, international tech developers in the U.S. who are stuck on temporary visas as an immediate market, if you will, for this program.[/pullquote]

Human capital and special skills, particularly in the technology and science sectors, are vital to a nation’s survival. Foreigners are receiving American educations at top-level universities, only to take their skills back home. A common reason is the difficulty of obtaining a visa in the U.S. Business executives, including those from Google and Microsoft, are in support of a more lenient system, claiming they are having difficulty finding qualified workers.

Immigrants are also substantial contributors to the development of new businesses. A 2012 study done by the Ewig Marion Kauffman Foundation found that between 1995 and 2005, 52 per cent of all Silicon Valley companies had at least one immigrant founder. Not only that, the study also found that immigrant-founded companies employed about 560,000 workers and generated an estimated $63 billion in sales between 2006 and 2012.

But the number of immigrant-founded firms is in decline. Obama addressed this in a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Feb. 19th.

“Right now, in one of those classrooms, there are students wrestling with how to turn their big idea — their Intel or Instagram — into a big business,” said Obama. “We’re giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we’re going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in India or China or Mexico or someplace else. That’s not how you grow new industries in America. That’s how you give new industries to our competitors.”
Canada’s upcoming visa program seems to be a direct answer to the Silicon Valley problem. Skilled workers having difficulty obtaining residency south of the border can apply to Canada.

In a Toronto Star report this year, Kenney stated: “We see the bright, young, international tech developers in the U.S. who are stuck on temporary visas as an immediate market, if you will, for this program.” Applicants for the visa program must obtain funding from a Canadian venture capital fund or investor and pass a series of language and education requirements. The program begins with a five-year pilot run, accepting 2,750 applications per year.  The first applicants are expected to be accepted within a year.

If Kenney’s bold new plan does indeed prove successful, it is possible Canada is about to take a quantum leap in technology business production. If not, however, hopeful foreigners can wait out the U.S. Congress to see if they can make definitive progress on immigration reform.

Imogen is a journalist, writer, and film maker living in Toronto. She is passionate about cross-cultural stories of immigration and gender, and is fascinated by the underdog. She writes copy for the creative design studios Half Hunter. The short film she wrote, “The Haircut”, will debut at a multicultural film festival this spring. 

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