U.S. losing tech talent to Canada

The land of the free isn’t catering to talented techies quite like our neighbors to the north. So many entrepreneurs have given up on navigating the complicated U.S. immigration system and are heading to Canada to launch their startups.

For Madhuri Eunni — originally from Hyderabad, India — Canada offered her the ability to finally launch her own company, which she wasn’t able to do in the U.S.

“I didn’t anticipate I would have to leave because of such circumstances,” said Eunni, who has a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.

She spent nearly a decade in the tech industry, working at Sprint (Sand startup MiCOM Labs, neither of which was able to sponsor her for a green card. Even if she had applied for an EB2 green card (for professionals with advanced degrees), the wait for an Indian citizen can be as long as five years due to backlog.

So in September 2013, Eunni moved to Toronto and launched SKE Labs Inc., a startup that’s still in development but will ultimately make kitchen and home products for connected living.

“It was disappointing that we had to uproot ourselves, [but] starting a business was something I wanted to do,” said Eunni. “It’s not as big as the Bay Area, but it’s a growing market.”

The most common way for immigrants to work in the U.S. is to obtain an H-1B visa (of which there are only 65,000 annually). The H-1B mandates employer sponsorship, so self-employed startup founders are pretty much out of luck.

“The U.S. has adopted a restrictive approach toward visas,” explained Isabelle Marcus, founder of Columbus Consulting Group. “It’s quite detrimental to U.S. businesses looking to hire young, talented people with skills that are needed in the U.S.”

Advocates of immigration reform have pushed a startup visa, which would allow founders like Eunni to legally stay in the U.S. The Senate passed a version last year, but it stalled in the House.

Canada, however, has been courting entrepreneurs and paving a way for citizenship through a startup visa program that launched in April 2013.

The Canadian startup visa doesn’t require employer sponsorship. Applicants need a minimum investment of $75,000 from a select Canadian angel investor or $200,000 from a select Canadian venture capital fund. (There are also a few additional requirements like language proficiency.) It grants a path to residency — after three years, entrepreneurs can apply for citizenship.

There are 2,750 available annually. Its first two applicants — Ukrainian entrepreneurs — were accepted earlier this month.

Meanwhile, U.S. regulations make it incredibly difficult for entrepreneurs to stay in the country, which is costing the U.S. revenue and jobs. According to a recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, H-1B denials in 2007 and 2008 resulted in a loss of 231,224 tech jobs, translating into $3 billion in lost earnings for those would-be workers.

With no startup visa, strict quotas and regulations around H-1Bs, innovative entrepreneurs are migrating elsewhere.

Eunni was able to become a permanent Canadian resident because of her advanced degree and years of experience. She said the process was “super simple” — she was approved within a year.

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About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…