Immigration is a net economic benefit – this is a story Canada should build on
Bessma Momani is professor at the University of Waterloo, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, and a fellow of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
Too often, immigration to Canada is viewed as a cost to our society, rather than as a net benefit. But research has found that immigrants are an enormous benefit to Canadian prosperity and this part of our story needs to be told now more than ever.
From Europe to the United States, countries are increasingly becoming inhospitable to immigrants, and the talk of walls and quotas exceeds that of showcasing their contribution to economic prosperity.
Canada’s story includes the fact that immigrants are highly entrepreneurial – whether they come to Canada with millions of dollars to invest, have PhDs and hope to find work, or arrive with nothing but the shirts on their backs to seek political stability. Recent data released by Statistics Canada noted that immigrants across various categories of entry are more likely than the Canadian-born to start their own businesses. They employ other Canadians, innovate new products and services, disrupt business models and generate wealth and prosperity for Canada and Canadians.
Entrepreneurial immigrants do more than open convenience stores, ethnic restaurants or dry cleaners – the businesses many people may think of when they think about immigrant entrepreneurs.
Increasingly, they bring “creative destruction” to our knowledge sector. Data now reveals that Canadian immigrant entrepreneurs are more likely than others to innovate, invest in research and development and introduce new products.
Immigrant entrepreneurs are not just diversifying our choice of products in Canada; they are also better at diversifying our exports. In a highly competitive global environment where Canadian firms must take advantage of rising purchasing power in more populous countries, pursue new and untapped markets to reduce risks from fluctuations in the domestic market, and find younger demographics in foreign markets, immigrant entrepreneurs are proven to be highly successful at this more than other Canadians.
While Canadian businesses are notoriously risk-averse and concentrate their exports to the United States for ease of doing business, immigrant entrepreneurs challenge this corporate culture and are far more likely to seek out new markets beyond our southern neighbour. Immigrant entrepreneurs take advantage of international networks and markets, exporting far more than other all other businesses.
The businesses owned by immigrant entrepreneurs range from small-scale businesses on Main Street to corporate giants on Bay Street.
It may come as a surprise that Canada’s list of wealthiest individuals includes many immigrants who started businesses in Canada. Corporations such as Magna International, BlackBerry, Saputo, Larco and Shopify, to name a few, were started by immigrants to Canada and are now among the largest employers and generators of wealth in the country.
Many immigrant entrepreneurs praise Canada for what it has to offer, but this often has less to do with its liberalized business regulations than with the celebrated Canadian way of life. Immigrant entrepreneurs choose Canada not because of the ease of doing business or because of access to finance and capital, but for the appreciation of diversity.
This positive narrative doesn’t mean Canada can rest on its laurels. There is a lot of work to be done on improving funding for research and development, supporting and facilitating patenting, strengthening our intellectual property rights regime with better protection and enforcement and improving the quality of universities to be truly world-class.
Nevertheless, we are doing something right. We may not be excelling in global rankings of innovation, but we are a chosen destination for providing a safe, supportive and prosperous home for new and old Canadians alike.
At a time of increasingly negative news stories shared across the world, Canada has a positive one to share. It is one about our immigrant entrepreneurs and is a story of success that needs to be showcased and celebrated.
A study on these findings will be showcased at the 6 Degrees Citizen Space meeting in Toronto on Sept. 20 to 21.