The debate over immigration reform in the United States continues to rage, with groups on both the left and right attempting to derail the compromise package now working its way through the Senate. Advocates across the political spectrum need to recognize that while we argue about immigration our global competitors are taking action, and if we are not careful other nations will benefit from the high skilled workers and entrepreneurs we refuse to welcome.
One nation that wants to take full advantage of our gridlock is our neighbor to the north. Canada not only has cut its corporate tax rate, expanded funding for R&D, and reoriented its national labs toward tech commercialization, it also recently inaugurated its Start-up Visa, which provides a path to permanent residency and business development assistance for immigrant entrepreneurs. The visa is part of a broader immigration reform package that will improve the flexibility of the overall system and link it more directly with Canada's economic needs. This includes the introduction of an online "expression of interest" database in 2014 which will match foreign workers with potential company sponsors looking for specialized skills.
And Canada has not been shy about promoting their reforms and contrasting them with the continued morass that is the American immigration framework. The Canadian government recently had billboards erected in the heart of Silicon Valley headlined with the slogan "H1-B Problems? PIVOT to Canada." In addition, Jason Kenney, Canada's Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, just completed a four-day tour of California with the express purpose of recruiting high skilled immigrants with the promise of a more flexible visa system. In Minister Kenney's words: "Our idea is to go down there, and say to many of these young people: If you would like to start your company in North America and stay on a permanent basis, Canada is open for you."
Canada isn't doing this to be charitable to U.S. immigrants. It's doing this because it wants to grow its innovation economy. And over the last year, numerous countries have followed Canada's lead, including Australia, Great Britain and Ireland, by creating or improving entrepreneur visa programs specifically targeted at the high skilled immigrants that have traditionally gravitated to the U.S. As ITIF argued in Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage this is part of a broader trend in which America's global competitors are developing comprehensive innovation policies to grow and attract innovation industries. As Canada illustrates, if we choose to continue to restrict high skill immigration, other nations are more than happy to welcome those workers, with it being our loss.
Follow Robert D. Atkinson, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Robatkinsonitif