Start me up: new visa program aims to lure techno 'brainiacs' to Canada
Published Thursday, January 24, 2013 8:33PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 24, 2013 8:36PM EST
It's no April Fool's Day joke.
Quicker than you can say status update, the federal government hopes to launch a raid of Silicon Valley and lure techno wizards up to Canada with its new start-up visa program that begins April 1.
The payoff? Foreign entrepreneurs start a company in Canada, create innovation, jobs, wealth and new exports for this country, according to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
"It's an idea that's been floating around in the high-tech industry for quite awhile," Kenney told CTV's Power Play host Don Martin.
Under the program, Canadian venture capitalists who are putting money into new businesses being created "by bright young folks around the world" will now be able to invite them to come and start that business in Canada, he said.
"Right now there are thousands (of) typically Asian brainiacs in the Silicon Valley in California who are the future Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but because the American immigration system is so dysfunctional they cannot get permanent residency in the U.S.," said Kenney.
Those technical entrepreneurs have temporary U.S. visas which run out after a year or two. Canada will offer its "gold standard" in immigration -- permanent residency -- to encourage them to make the move north, where Kenney hopes to capitalize on their business concepts and entrepreneurial drive that could create massively successful businesses and billions of dollars-worth of innovation. The offer of permanent residency makes the program the first of its kind in the world, said Kenney.
To qualify for the visa, applicants must have the backing of a venture capital firm in Canada.
Jobs, growth and long-term prosperity are Canada's number one priority, Kenney said earlier in Toronto. The government wants to build an immigration system that's fast and flexible and that works for Canada and newcomers, he said, speaking at the offices of startup EventMobi.
Recently Forbes magazine ranked Canada as the number one place in the world to start a new business. But in a fragile global economy, the government is cutting red tape so entrepreneurs can do what they do best: create jobs and prosperity, and help Canada maintain a global competitive edge, Kenney said.
High quality applicants will need a $75,000 funding commitment from a designated angel investor network or $200,000 from a designated venture capital fund, and must be able to speak English or French, said Kenney. Venture capital funds that manage $40 million or more in assets will automatically qualify to back startup visa applicants.
Many large technology companies and thousands of small start-ups call Silicon Valley home.
Kenney plans to go there with a group of Canadian venture capitalists to promote the proposal. The government will begin reviewing applications in the spring. A few hundred people are expected to apply for the visas in the first year as word of the program spreads. However, the government has imposed a cap of 2,750 visas a year in the five-year program. If the program is successful, the government will make it permanent, Kenney said.
The visa replaces the investor and entrepreneur immigration programs which were put on hold after the government determined they weren't luring enough real business to Canada.
Some people who were caught up in a backlog of applications under those old programs are now suing the government, demanding their applications be processed.
With files from The Canadian Press