Countries Try to Lure Foreign Entrepreneurs Away From Silicon Valley with Start-Up Visas

June 6, 2013

Immigrant entrepreneurs frustrated with the difficult and seemingly endless process of getting temporary visas to work in the U.S., not to mention other challenges they face when building a start-up in America, now have quicker, more appealing options in other countries.

According to The New York Times, countries such as Canada, Britain, Australia and Chile are trying to draw talented foreign entrepreneurs away from California’s Silicon Valley with offers of seed money or start-up visas. As a contributor to The Huffington Post noted, many highly skilled workers are denied visas to work in the U.S. every year and other countries are hoping to capitalize on the bottleneck created by restrictive U.S. immigration laws.

Last month, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney aggressively promoted his country’s Start-Up Visa program, reported Business Standard. He has made visits to Silicon Valley and even has a billboard by highway 101 to entice immigrant entrepreneurs to come to Canada.

“We became aware of this large pool of highly educated and innovative temporary residents in the United States, typically on H-1 visas who wanted to stay by couldn’t… Our message to them is if you’re interested eventually in staying in North America on a permanent basis, please think of immigrating to Canada, perhaps through our start-up visa program,” said Kenney in an interview with Business Standard.

According to The Huffington Post, under Canada’s new start-up visa program, which is on a five-year trial, foreign entrepreneurs and their families can enter Canada and receive immediate residency if they have secured $200,000 from a Canadian venture capitalist or $75,000 from a Canadian angel investor for their start-up business. Additionally, The New York Times noted that applicants must also have at least one year of college education and be able to speak basic English or French. Furthermore, unlike U.S. immigration laws, they would not need to show that they could create new jobs for the country. In fact, if the start-up failed, the entrepreneur would not be deported; instead, he or she would be allowed to stay in Canada and work elsewhere in the country’s tech industry.

“It’s a risk we’re willing to take,” said Kenney in The New York Times.

Conversely, American lawmakers are much stricter and more cautious when it comes to granting visas and U.S. residency. U.S. immigration reform is constantly in flux; with so many talented individuals aiming for Silicon Valley, few immigrants have the opportunity to achieve their American dream. Under a proposed Senate bill, the U.S. would grant temporary visas valid for just three years and every three years, the Department of Homeland Security would be required to report to Congress on the kinds of businesses visa-holders create, how many jobs they generated and how much revenue was made.

While many foreign entrepreneurs may be tempted by such ideal offerings outside of the U.S., some cannot resist the tales of becoming the next big thing in Silicon Valley. Kenney acknowledged that his country is up against tough competition, but told Business Standard that he hopes Canada’s nurturing ecosystem, lower taxes, more stable fiscal environment and more flexible immigration system will attract at least a few hundred visa applicants during the first year of the program.

“We’d rather [foreign entrepreneurs] start their businesses in Toronto or Vancouver than in Silicon Valley or in Bangalore… our immigration reforms are creating a much faster moving and more proactive immigration system that seeks proactively to reach around the world and attract the best and brightest,” said Kenney in Business Standard.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


“Canada: An Entrepreneur’s Utopia?” huffingtonpost.com, June 5, 2013, Brandon Smith

“Canada woos entrepreneurs with new Start-Up Visa,” business-standard.com, May 18, 2013, Indira Kannan

“Countries Seek Entrepreneurs From Silicon Valley,” nytimes.com, June 5, 2013, Somini Sengupta

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