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New immigration rules aim to attract entrepreneurs to Newfoundland and Labrador

HeyOrca co-founders Joe Teo (right) and Sahand Seifi speak with reporters about Monday’s announcement.
HeyOrca co-founders Joe Teo (right) and Sahand Seifi speak with reporters about Monday’s announcement. - David Maher

Government revives entrepreneur immigration program, with more robust rules this time

A previously shuttered immigration program has been revisited by the provincial government, seeking to allow entrepreneurs from out of the province set down roots in Newfoundland and Labrador.

On Monday, Advanced Education, Skills, and Labour Minister Al Hawkins announced two paths for immigrant to start businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The International Graduate Entrepreneur category will allow graduates of Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic start a business in the province. The International Entrepreneur program is open to immigrants who want to start, join, or manage a business in the province.

The first category will require a student graduate from a program at least two years long, with a benchmark seven level of English or French. There’s no up-front investment required in a local business, but the applicants must have at least one-year’s experience in managing or owning a business in the province before they’re eligible.

The second category is open to immigrants from age 21 to 59. They must have $500,000 in net business and personal assets that can be transferred to the province, with at least two-years’ experience in managing a business.

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The announcement took place at the HeyOrca head offices, a local technology company co-founded by Iranian-born Sahand Seifi and Malaysian-born Joe Teo. The company employs 35 people between Newfoundland and Labrador and Toronto, with the majority of employees coming from away.

Seifi says the announcement is a positive move by the province.

“For me, I’ve been mentoring a lot of students out of school, especially international ones, who want to start their business,” Seifi said.

“Their No. 1 question is about staying in Canada and starting a business. I can tell them there’s a route now that they can take and they don’t have to worry about this aspect of starting a business now.”

Under the previous rules, HeyOrca co-founder Joe Teo had to give up his stake in the company for a time in order to be allowed to get his permanent resident status, which he received last year.

Teo says he’s committed to Newfoundland and Labrador, although he acknowledges the potential trouble on the horizon.

“Rising costs is a universal problem. I think it’s all about the optimism that immigrants have, especially. (They are) willing to take the risk for a better life here,” said Teo.

“Certain industries in Newfoundland are thriving, like the technology scene, for example. So, I think there are definitely challenges, but a lot of opportunities as well.”

A similar immigration program offered by the federal government was shuttered in 2010 after the federal auditor general found the system was being abused by newcomers across the Atlantic provinces.

Investors were able to transfer their wealth into the provinces in exchange for visas to work and live in Canada faster than through other immigration routes. According to a National Post article from 2011, in P.E.I., the auditor general found just 368 of 1,100 immigrants registered with provincial authorities after using the program.

In a statement, the Department of Advanced Education and Skills says there are safeguards in place this time around to ensure the program is not abused.

International Entrepreneur and International Graduate Entrepreneur applicants will report on their business progress on an ongoing basis, and will agree to regular independent audits of their business operations,” read the statement.

“The new categories will require individuals to own a business for 12 months prior to being nominated by Newfoundland and Labrador, to ensure that entrepreneurs investing in our province are establishing roots here.

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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