Vancouver’s startup visa lures entrepreneurs away from Silicon Valley
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As the 113th U.S. House of Congress becomes the least productive session ever, including no movement to increase the number of H-1B, highly skilled visa holders, Silicon Valley’s immigration dysfunction is another city’s gain: Vancouver

Image credit: Creative Commons.

Called Silicon Valley North, Vancouver is taking advantage of the United States’ stalled immigration process and enticing global entrepreneurs with permanent residency through a one-year-old Canadian “start-up visa” program. The Canadian government, which will issue a maximum of 2,750 start-up visas each year, is just beginning to accept applicants, including two recent Facebook hires who relocated to Vancouver instead of Silicon Valley.

At first, South African Jonathan Hitchcock was disappointed that because his U.S. visa application had stalled, he would be moving to Vancouver instead of Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters. But after living for eight months in Vancouver, his perspective changed.

Hitchcock told CBC News, “Vancouver is a wonderful, beautiful place, and all the companies are here. There’s a thriving tech community here.”

According to the Startup Genome’s Startup Ecosystem 2013 Report, not only did Vancouver rank as the 9th best city for startups globally, it also ranked 4th in the world for talent and 2nd for its “entrepreneurial mindset.” Cool startups Recon, which makes Google Glass-like wearables for sports, and Mojio – which created an internet device that plugs into a car’s diagnostic port to check speed, oil levels, and directions without the aid a smartphone – are just two of hundreds of startups in Vancouver.

Other popular startup hubs outside the United States include Tel Aviv, which ranked 2nd in Startup Genome’s 2013 Report. Just behind Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv was the only city outside of North America to rank in the top 10. London (#7), Berlin (#15), and Dublin also have promising tech scenes.

But Hitchcock notes that, “One of the reasons (Facebook) does well in Silicon Valley is because all the other companies are in Silicon Valley,” despite that fact that otherwise, he feels that “Silicon Valley is awful.” Although Facebook, Microsoft, Sony Pictures, and Hootsuite have created Vancouver offices in recent years, there have also been setbacks. In 2013, both Disney closed its Pixar Vancouver branch and Electronic Arts transferred some offices to Ontario because of a talent shortage. Hopefully Canada’s start-up visa program can address some of this gap.

Vancouver will need to keep attracting large companies, as well as increase venture capital funding and support, to stay competitive against Silicon Valley. Who knows: maybe soon we’ll be singing “Blame America” instead of “Blame Canada.”

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Laura Rosbrow-Telem

About Laura Rosbrow-Telem


I am a social entrepreneurship enthusiast: This is what happens when a former social worker becomes a tech journalist. I mostly write about startups, technology, peace and justice issues, cultural topics, and personal stuff. Before Geektime, I was an editor at the Jerusalem Post and Mic.

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