By Joe Friesen, Globe and Mail, July 8, 2011
Immigrant tech stars face hurdles in quest to start business in Canada
Romanian computer-science stars Mircea Pasoi and Cristian Strat turned down jobs at Facebook and Google to build a technology startup in Vancouver.
They’re the kind of talented migrants that most countries fall over themselves trying to attract. Their big idea, an algorithm that summarizes the most important news stories in a person’s social network, could be worth millions if properly executed. They already have serious venture-capital backing in Canada and the United States.
But what the Romanian entrepreneurs don’t have is a clearly defined path to permanent residency in Canada.
Their case highlights one of the enduring tensions of the immigration system: the kind of people Canada wants to embrace can face frustrating obstacles that persuade them to look elsewhere.
In this case, under the rules that govern entrepreneur-class immigration, applicants need $300,000 in net worth. Mr. Pasoi, just 23 years old, does not have that kind of money.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the entrepreneur-class category has grown so ineffective that he suspended the program last week and is going back to the drawing board. He said the program is small in the overall immigration picture, but he’s open to new ideas for retooling it.
Wait times for entrepreneur-class immigration applications had grown as long as eight years in some cases. Over the past decade, the number of successful applicants plummeted by 78 per cent, to 372 in 2009. There are also entrepreneur streams in eight provincial nominee programs, but they differ in every province and none in British Columbia appears to suit the Romanian entrepreneurs.
While everyone in Canada, (well almost) has been celebrating the pomp and ceremony minus the formality of the royal visit, there is an underbelly of British influence that continues to grip this country in his claws.
And for this grip, Canada has a well deserved, and not so positive reputation, in the international arena.
We are addicted to both the past and to "forms and procedures" that straight-jacket much of our public attitudes.
And many of those forms, that Canadians so obligingly and co-operatively fill in, and then mail in, are designed to cover someone's "political ass" so that there is a paper trail of accomplishment to which some department in some government office can point when it comes time for performance evaluations.
And many of the forms and procedures that entangle this country are designed, not by the users of the systems those forms attempt to facilitate; they are designed by some omniscient lawyer, accountant, or sociologist who is considered an expert in "forms" and in the retrieval of information.
And, so there are complaints, in hospitals, for example, from highly trained professional specialists, who are buried in "forms" and the requirements to fill out those forms, presumably to protect everyone in the case of a law suit, (on forms most likely designed by lawyers who know little or nothing about the actual needs of the doctors and nurses.
And in policy matters, in this case, we witness a collision of our stated desire to attract the best and the brightest of immigrant, (and we proudly proclaim our country is the best place for them to start a new life) with our desire to restrict such immigration in order not to overflow our towns and cities with too many immigrants. And so we create "resistant systems" with their accompanying paper hurdles, and their bureaucratic department offices filled with workers whose job it is to maintain the flow of numbers in categories as assigned by the government of the day. And our "resistance systems" complete with the most elaborate paper trails and gate-keeping bureaucracies serve as our "insurance policies" for the politicians to hide behind, for the public policy analysts to bury into to accomplish their research, and for the media to get lost in, in their search for some kind of sense-making of the conundrum.
It is a Canadian, historic, traditional and "British" bureaucratic system that really runs much of the country...too much in this case. But there are countless examples of this kind of silliness.
Once, while working overseas, I was asked to submit a proposal to grow a grass-roots organization, and my immediately "Canadian" response was, "Do you have a form that I can fill in to submit the proposal?" The person in charge of the project, an American CEO retorted with disdain, "Oh I forgot, you're a Canadian and they're drowning in paper!" I was stunned until after I study the matter, submitted a rather detailed proposal and learned that the same person literally lost the piece of paper, whose design and existence may have been created solely to comply with my request for a "form".
Canada needs to break free not only of our limiting addiction to "forms" and to bureaucracies, but also to our restrictive, limiting and debilitating resistance to change in our attitudes generally, if we are even to grow into our full potential.
There is definitely a need for forms and for quality control. Just ask Tim Horton's about the need for quality control. They have made a billion-dollar business of the practice of quality control, and I am confident there is a mountain of either paper or digital reports that comprise the details of their business. But those reports and those digits will never be permitted to get in the way of the successful operation of that business.
Such cannot be said about the governments, all levels in Canada, where the worship of reports, digits and formerly paper restrictions ties many initiatives for change in "sacred cows" of mere idol worship...we are, in many ways, an anal country, and our anality is one of our least attractive characteristics.
Open our doors to these immigrants; open our minds to less restriction; open our hearts to more generous attitudes and open our imaginations to more achievable goals heretofore never permitted as even worth considering...because we were/are tied in knots of our own making ...mostly based on "fear".
All our governmental systems do not have to replicate "banks" in their pursuit of rules, restrictions, forms and all manner of resistances to their clients, save for the really big ones, for whom they literally bend over backwards to accommodate.