The Canada-U.S. Battle for Genius Entrepreneurs

The U.S. version of Canada's startup visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs signals that our southern neighbour is looking to fuel the next Silicon Valley

Written by Erica Alini for Canadian Business

The latest effort in Canada’s long-standing attempt to re-create Silicon Valley is a new startup visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs who want to start a company. We want to get the world’s inventors and business whizzes to head—or, as Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) recently put it—”pivot” up north.

The U.S., though, might be upping its game too. The immigration reform bill passed by the Senate last week talks about an “invest non-immigrant visa” that is, essentially, Uncle Sam’s version of a startup visa.

Canada Prerequisites:

1. You have to secure an investment of at least $200,000 from one of these Canadian venture capital funds, or $75,000 from these angel investors.

2. You must be able to speak, read and write English, French, or both, decently well.

3. You must have been enrolled at a university (or other post-secondary institution) for at least a year and must show that you’ve actually spent some time with your head on the books while there. But you don’t need to have graduated with a degree.

4. Finally, you must have enough money set aside to survive on as you get started in Canada. According to the government, that means having at least $11,115 in the bank when you arrive if you’re single and childless.

Canada Prize:

In exchange, you get a Canadian permanent residence. And no, we won’t kick you out if your newborn business goes belly up.

South of the border, the deal you’d be getting if the relevant portion of the current Senate bill goes through without amendments (which is, admittedly, a big caveat) looks like this:

U.S. Prerequisites:

1. You must have a U.S. business up and running and show that you’ve raised at least USD $100,000 in the three years prior to applying for the visa.

2. You must have also created at least three full-time jobs in the U.S. in the previous three years.

U.S. Prize:

You earn the right to stay in the U.S. for another three years. You can then renew your permit for another three years, but only if you:

1. Managed to create an additional three U.S. jobs (at least) and raised no less than USD $250,000 from investors.

2. Or, you created the three jobs and you had at least USD $250,000 in annual revenues in the two years prior to applying for the renewal.

Now, there are a couple of exceptions to this renewal rule, and some, more established, entrepreneurs will also be able to apply for a green card if they meet a whole other list of conditions I won’t get into here. All in all, though, Canada’s offer is much sweeter.

All you need to do is convince a Canadian investor that you have a good idea. The rules smartly take into consideration the fact that you might be a college drop-out, as Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg were. And Canada also accepts that it might take a few failures before you—we hope—really hit it big.

The U.S. is much more demanding—and the prize it is offering, frankly, quite meagre.

Canada’s visa, in other words, sets the bar low enough that even a good college dorm-stage startup might get a pass. The U.S. is clearly targeting businesses that are further along and entrepreneurs who have long moved their headquarters out of mom and dad’s garage.

Is Canada doing the right thing? Absolutely. It is admirable that Ottawa has decided to impose so few entry requirements and put up with the risk of startups will fail. The only downside I can see here is foreign entrepreneurs possibly flocking to Canada to start their businesses, but then moving down south when the company is big enough to meet the U.S. requirements. We already have that problem with Canadian-born entrepreneurs, and we might end up having the same issue with those we take in from abroad.

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