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Business Immigration Can Play a Role in Canada’s Economic Growth Agenda

May 02, 2017
Kareem El-Assal Kareem El-Assal
Research Associate,
Education and Immigration Research

While the global business immigration population is on the rise, Canada’s intake of business immigrants has fallen—even though it is admitting more newcomers. Consequently, Canada could be missing out on the opportunity to lure immigrants with the human, social, and financial capital to support the nation’s economic development. However, Canada is well positioned to reverse the trend.

Canada’s Growth Priorities

Between 1978 and 1986, Canada launched three business immigration programs to stimulate job creation and economic growth. It wanted people who would launch businesses that would employ Canadians and provide investment capital that would fund economic development initiatives.

Current government economic development priorities include developing infrastructure, driving innovation, and attracting global talent. Here, immigrant entrepreneurs and investors can play a role. By attracting more high-skilled entrepreneurs, Canada could see the launch of more innovative and globally competitive businesses. Immigrant investors could help fund the Canada Infrastructure Bank, fledgling Canadian companies, and affordable housing.

The Global Boom

As a newly released report from The Conference Board of Canada shows, more entrepreneurs and investors are looking to move abroad for several reasons. Commonly, they want to pursue a new life for themselves and their families. Some are enticed by business opportunities in their new host country. Others are looking to reap the benefits of visa-free travel or want “insurance” in case things go awry at home.

Due to this surging demand, many more countries are operating business immigration programs than ever before. This means that Canada faces much greater competition. In comparison, Canada was a global pioneer when it launched its business immigration programs in the late 1970s. As a result of the global boom in business immigration, Canada must be mindful of how its programs stack up with those offered by other countries.

The Challenges

Unfortunately, Canada has struggled to unlock business immigration’s potential for decades. Reasons include challenges identifying the best immigrant selection criteria, program integrity issues, public concerns, and low interest rates limiting the ability of Canada’s governments to use immigrant investor funds toward projects that can help the economy. Further exacerbating these challenges, some countries have low selection criteria as they seek to attract more business immigrants, leading to concerns about a race to the bottom.

The Opportunities

Despite these challenges, Canada has several advantages compared with the global field. As other countries are looking to reduce immigration, Canada will be admitting more immigrants in the years to come due to its aging population, low birth rate, and public belief that immigration is good for the economy. Thus, global talent will continue to view Canada as a tolerant and open place that is ideal to raise a family and chase economic opportunities.

Canada also has plenty of business immigration expertise. It can draw upon nearly 40 years of experience to help inform future directions for its business immigration programs. There are many good ideas out there on how Canada’s entrepreneur and investor programs can be reformed. Some of them are summarized in our report.

For its entrepreneur programs, Canada would benefit from identifying how to better match prospective immigrant entrepreneurs with business opportunities in Canada. Many Canadian investors have a strong desire to partner with talented entrepreneurs living overseas. Often, the Canadian has little time to identify these opportunities. Canada’s governments could play a role in the matchmaking process. An idea suggested in our report is for a website to be launched that contains profiles of entrepreneurs overseas—this would provide Canadian investors with access to more talent.

A new immigrant investor program could help raise capital for underfunded areas. Examples include venture capital and affordable housing. However, given the limitations of Canada’s previous investor program, serious thought would be needed on how the new program’s investment requirements would be structured and how to win the support of the Canadian public. The concerted goal of a new program should be to ensure that investor funds are put toward active investments to maximize the economic benefits for Canadians.

Next Steps

Canada will admit over 300,000 immigrants per year moving forward, most of whom will fall under the economic class. Allocating a small percentage of these seats to business immigrants could have a large economic impact. While our report does not have all the answers, it is meant to help stimulate dialogue among stakeholders on how business immigration can be leveraged to Canada’s advantage.

Canadian Immigration Summit 2017: Innovating at 150 and Beyond

On May 9–10, the Conference Board hosts its third annual Canadian Immigration Summit in Ottawa to discuss innovations that could help build an even stronger immigration system over the next 150 years. Distinguished speakers include ministers Ahmed Hussen, Laura Albanese, Kathleen Weil, Lena Diab, and Donald Arseneault. Make sure to sign up.

 


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