The Washington Post

What you and the Senate need to know about Canada

In this Aug. 10, 2011 photo, American and Canadian flags fly next to each other at a snack bar in Richford, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot) In this Aug. 10, 2011 photo, American and Canadian flags fly next to each other at a snack bar in Richford, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Senators should be aware of a critical fact, as they debate immigration reform: If we don’t want foreign-born talent in the United States, other countries are more than happy to take the talent, and the innovation potential that goes with it, off of our hands.

“I’m here to send the message that Canada’s open for business—we welcome the entrepreneurs that America is turning away” said Canadian Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney at Stanford Law School this week. His message to Silicon Valley’s immigrant entrepreneurs: “If you’re thinking of doing a start-up in North America, why don’t you come to Canada? You can do so permanently. Create the wealth there, create the jobs in Canada, bring your huge human capital to Canada, and contribute to our economy.” The Canadian government even purchased a large billboard on Route 101—the main thoroughfare between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, which says “H-1B problems? Pivot to Canada”.


That’s how badly Canada wants people in the middle of our national debate over immigration. And they’re not alone.

Ireland also wants the entrepreneurs the U.S. is turning away. Last week, on a visit to Dublin, I met Richard Bruton, Ireland’s Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. He practically echoed Kenney verbatim, saying that Ireland wants to get a message to Silicon Valley that goes something like this: The Irish government welcomes foreign entrepreneurs and will offer substantial support and financing. He sees this as a way of boosting Ireland’s struggling economy.

My advice to Bruton was that he should take out a billboard on the other side of Route 101.

Meanwhile, America’s loss has already been Chile’s gain. It has a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem thanks to Startup Chile, a program that I helped design. Chile offers $40,000 and visas and free office space to foreign entrepreneurs to bootstrap their startups in Santiago.  The program has attracted hundreds of startups from the U.S. and abroad. It has created so much buzz and excitement that The Economist dubbed it “Chilecon Valley”.

Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Italy are all trying to build something like what Chile did. All have approached me to ask how they can recreate Startup Chile.

So, while U.S. leaders debate the merits of immigration reform, other countries are eagerly taking advantage of our dysfunction. Comprehensive immigration reform took a major step forward this week, with The Senate Judiciary Committee approving a plan. But the ugliest battles lie ahead in the House and Senate.

With extremists on both ends of the political spectrum chipping away at public support for reform, there is no certainty that any legislation will finally pass. It could take many months even to get to the point that the final votes are cast. In the meantime, the U.S. continues to experience an immigrant exodus—as skilled workers get frustrated with the visa system and leave. This is why I have argued that we need to pass legislation that both sides agree on—such as a Startup Visa similar to what Canada just announced. And we need a Plan B in case there is a stalemate on reform.

Vivek Wadhwa is Vice President of Innovation and Research at Singularity University and Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance fellow at Stanford University. His other academic appointments include Harvard, Duke and Emory Universities as well as the University of California Berkeley. Read more about Vivek Wadhwa

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University. His past appointments include Harvard Law School, University of California Berkeley, and Emory University.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
From clubfoot to climbing: Double amputee lives life of adventure
Learn to make traditional soup dumplings
In defense of dads
Play Videos
How to make head cheese
Perks of private flying
The rise and fall of baseball cards
Play Videos
Husband finds love, loss in baseball
New hurdles for a Maryland tradition
How to survive a shark attack
Play Videos
Portland's most important meal of the day
What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease
How to save and spend money at college
Next Story
Emi Kolawole · May 23, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.