Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At a news conference on a new Start-up Visa Program
Toronto, Ontario, January 24, 2013

As delivered

Thanks very much.  I hope I’m not slowing down productivity or interrupting creativity here.  Thanks so much for hosting us. I want to thank Bijean Vaez for that introduction and I’d also like to thank Peter Vandervelden, the President of Canada’s Venture Capital and Private Equity Association, Yuri Navarro, Executive Director of the National Angel Capital Organization and Michael Donohue, Vice President from the Canadian Association of Business Incubators for joining me for this announcement, as well as Dr. Boris Wertz, founder of Version One Ventures, and a lot of other folks from the industry of venture capital, angel investors, mezzanine investors and business incubators.

As you know, the Government of Canada’s number one priority is jobs, growth and long term prosperity. Our Economic Action Plan highlights Canada’s commitment to supporting economic entrepreneurs, innovators and world class research. The plan also unveiled the government’s intention to build a fast and flexible economic immigration system that works for Canada and that works for newcomers.

That’s why we’re here today at EventMobi, a start-up company that specializes in the creation of customized mobile apps for major events. Although the company launched just a few years ago, it’s already a successful Canadian enterprise, having grown from, I understand, 4 employees to 20 in the past year. It now has staff in three countries, with customers in over 25 countries around the world.

Of course, there are hundreds of successful start-ups like this that are creating wealth, that are on the cutting edge of innovation in every corner of Canada.  I want to take this opportunity to congratulate EventMobi for its success in becoming one of the world’s leading mobile platforms for the event industry, as demonstrated by their recent nomination in the event industry’s technology watch awards.

Now, as with most start-up companies, there is enormous potential for EventMobi to further expand and create more jobs for Canada and for Canadians.  I understand from Bijean that EventMobi was founded by immigrant entrepreneurs, as he said, one of whom left Silicon Valley and moved back here to Canada to start the business here.

Stories like this, stories of entrepreneurship, of wealth creation, are a driving force of our economy.  The federal government is committed to ensuring the open economic climate in which they can prosper.

The international community has recognized Canada’s economic success and stability.  In fact, not long ago Forbes magazine ranked Canada as the number one place in the world in which to start a new business. Both the IMF and the World Bank have also said that Canada will continue to have the strongest economy in the G7 in the next year.

This is good news for Canadians but, in a fragile global economy, we cannot take our success for granted.  That’s why we’re continuing to cut red tape and maintain a free and open economy, one that lets entrepreneurs do what they do best, and get on with the business of creating jobs, innovating and creating prosperity.

Canada was built by risk takers and the future strength of our economy depends            on the success of today’s entrepreneurs. Just as many of Canada’s original entrepreneurs were immigrants, recruiting bright and innovative entrepreneurs from around the world will help Canada retain our global competitive edge. 

We’re not the only country trying to do that. Other countries, like the US and Australia, are also looking to attract the world’s best and brightest to their immigration programs.

We don’t want to lose out on the competition for the world’s best foreign entrepreneurs. Our current immigration program for businesses, the so-called entrepreneur program, began in the 1970’s and is, frankly, a bit of a relic of the 1970’s. A huge amount has changed since then and we don’t believe that program is really adding much to Canada’s economy.

That’s why I announced last spring here in Toronto with Kevin O’Leary that we would create a start-up visa pilot program to test a new way to choose immigrant entrepreneurs and to do it before our competitors. I’m very pleased to be here today to present more details about this new immigration program and to announce that this historic and innovative new immigration program will officially open for business on April 1st of this year.

Our brand new start-up visa program is the first of its kind in the world and will help Canada recruit entrepreneurs from around the world to spur economic growth and create jobs.  It will link in-demand immigrant entrepreneurs with private sector organizations here that have experience working with start-ups and can provide essential resources.

To apply, foreign entrepreneurs will first need the support of a Canadian angel investor group or venture capital fund which will help them fulfill their potential and maximize their impact on the Canadian labour market.  By providing promising immigrant entrepreneurs with permanent residency and with immediate access to a wide range of business partners, Canada will position itself as a destination of choice for start-ups.

Indeed, this program differs from similar ones in other countries because we provide immediate permanent residency, not conditional temporary residency. That’s a risk that we are prepared to take, because not every start-up entrepreneur who we invite to come to Canada through this program will succeed on the first shot.

Some of their great business concepts just won’t make it across the line, but they will have demonstrated to the business organizations and to the government that they are the kind of people who have the human capital, the entrepreneurship, the smarts that it takes to succeed in the long run. We don’t want to penalize people if they don’t succeed on their first start-up venture. We want to encourage them to make Canada their new home, to contribute in the long term their human capital to Canada.

That’s why we will be the first and only country in the world to grant immediate permanent residency to those who are selected in this way. There are going to be some pretty basic criteria here for selecting these start-up newcomers. First of all, they’re going to have an intermediate language benchmark of five, which means they can basically function in the Canadian economy. It’s not perfect fluency, but it does ensure that they can get by in French or English.

Secondly, we’ll require that they have completed at least one year of post-secondary education. We thought that shows that they’ve got a bit of college, but we don’t want to penalize the future Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and company who were, of course, famous sophomore dropouts. The organizations with whom we’re partnering, the Canadian Venture Capital Association and the National Angel Capital Organization, will be the two designated organizations that we will begin working with.

We’re working on finalizing our agreement as well with the Canadian Association of Business Incubation. Essentially, if a company wants to sponsor someone in from abroad to begin a start-up here as a permanent resident, that company has to have been accepted into a designated incubator program or received a funding commitment of at least $75,000 from a designated angel investor network. This is for those who are coming in through NACO and then received a funding commitment of at least $200,000 from a designated venture capital fund.

For those who are being sponsored by a member or company in the Canadian Venture Capital Association, they will have to have been a full member in good standing as of last October. If they’re managing $40 million or more and they were a member last October, they’ll automatically be in a position to recommend participants in the program. If they’re managing less than $40 million in assets, then they’ll go through a process in front of a peer review panel, effectively of other companies to ensure that they are a credible company.

For the NACO organization, there will be a panel of NACO members who will review applications and recommend them for permanent residency based on certain criteria that we’ve agreed on with NACO. Basically, what I’m trying to convey here is that we worked out the details with these industry organizations to make sure these are high quality applicants, and that we don’t see anyone trying to cheat their way through this particular program.

As you know, we have a large immigration program of a quarter of a million new permanent residents a year and we think that this will be both facilitative of the legitimate start-up entrepreneurs, but will also prevent people from trying to come in through the back door through this kind of program. We will begin reviewing applications this spring and we will formally publish the full set of program criteria before that time.

We will formally publish the full set of program criteria before that time, but this announcement today and the work the industry is currently doing with CIC will allow Canada’s venture capital industry to  begin the process of recruiting the first class of start-up visa candidates now and be ready when the program officially opens.

The start-up visa will initially be a five year pilot program.  If it proves successful, we’ll extend it and make it permanent.  ’m confident that it will work and that it will help to make Canada the destination of choice for many of the world’s best and brightest to launch their companies and create new wealth here in Canada.

Thank you very much.

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