Cutting The Immigration Red Tape To Help Canadian Tech

By Pace Law | July 21, 2016

I read with interest this article in Canadian Business that shows how our current roll of immigration red tape hurts high-tech start-ups:

Like many startup founders, Thillainadarajah spent those early days pursuing clients, pitching investors and refining his technology. But the entrepreneur faced an additional, less common challenge. “By day I was starting a company, and by night I was figuring out how to stay in the country legally,” he recalls. Born in Sri Lanka, Thillainadarajah attended UNB on a study permit and then got a three-year Post-Graduate Work Permit. Once that expired, he needed a temporary work permit to remain in the country, which required him to obtain a Labour Market Opinion.

In a Kafka-esque turn of events, Thillainadarajah found himself filling out paperwork to assess the possibility of finding a Canadian qualified to be CEO of the company he’d founded. “I had to submit a letter, written by me and signed by me, saying that in my opinion I was the best person to do my job,” he recalls. “So it was all a bit ridiculous.”

While the specifics of Thillainadarajah’s story might be unique, his experience of trying to work here as an immigrant tech entrepreneur is all too common. Instead of welcoming foreign talent with open arms, Canada makes it exceedingly difficult for them to come to or stay in this country, even at a time when the thriving technology sector is in dire need of skilled knowledge workers.

Canada at one time was a leader in recruitment to the high-tech sector. We offered good salaries, benefits, relocation assistance and quick processing times. Not only that, but through the Canadian Experience Class program, we gave special consideration to students who had already been in Canada for years. We allowed them to parlay that education into working in the Canadian economy. Those days are over, superseded by an Express Entry program that doesn’t reward students for the time they’ve already served in the country.

Cutting The Red Tape

Turnaround time in business is critical. Getting a product to market quickly is key, especially in technology. Any company that cannot recruit the best staff to do the job on time faces an uphill battle. The risks are even greater for young entrepreneurs who aren’t sure if Canada will remove them from the country before the business gets off the ground.

We need to cut the red tape experienced by both established brands and young entrepreneurs. My colleagues Jim Metcalfeand Andy Semotiuk have outlined before what the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process can do to a business’s bottom line. It isn’t good. One must wonder how many business plans – and their prospective employment opportunities – are scrapped by talented foreigners not because the people involved didn’t know what they were doing but because they didn’t want to go through the application process.

Israel is a particularly good example of what government support and leadership can do in the immigration and tech sectors. In Israel, a special team is responsible for importing workers from overseas for Israeli companies. The team makes their recommendations directly to the Prime Minister. Recruited employees are offered specialist visas which enable them to move to Israel for 2 years, with a possibility of a 3-year extension. The Israeli Ministry of Economy has a data base of recognized companies. When requests come in from these companies, their demand for workers is swiftly met.

Government can play a good role in furthering the interests of the tech sector. Sometimes, the best action is for them to get out of the way and let companies get on with business.