Thank you, Madam Chair. It's an honour to join you today.
As a first-generation immigrant who came to Canada as an international student, I am thankful to Canada and the opportunities afforded me to establish a successful global businesses as an entrepreneur and for being able to be in a position to help create thousands of jobs for Canadians.
Today, I speak to you as the chair of the Toronto Business Development Centre, also know as TBDC, a not-for-profit Toronto incubator that was established 32 years ago. Since our founding, we have helped over 9,000 entrepreneurs establish or scale their businesses. We have established with the City of Brampton a partnership called BHive, which is the city's premier international incubator intended to attract global entrepreneurs. We've also been chosen by the Government of Ontario to help promote, recruit and matchmake a hundred immigrant entrepreneurs with economic opportunities throughout Ontario under the Ontario immigrant nominee program.
As someone who believes in the potential of newcomer entrepreneurs, I want to use this time to speak to the challenges facing our economic immigration program and zero in on the start-up visa program, also known as the SUV program.
The objective of the start-up visa program was to help international entrepreneurs with innovative or disruptive business ideas come to Canada to establish and scale their start-ups in Canada. Through these start-ups, Canada would benefit from well-paid jobs, growing exports and rapidly scaling companies. Canada was the first country to establish this creative program and has indeed benefited from a number of successes in attracting international entrepreneurs to Canada. It has demonstrably contributed to creating jobs and exports and to growing our ecosystem in Canada.
Due to the current backlog, the program does have challenges. It has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Permanent residency applications under the SUV program, as per the IRCC website, are currently at 31 months, while that was intended to be around 12 months. There's a big backlog.
Many applicants have applied for work permits now, but the processing is longer than even a year for some of the countries, and many quality applicants are being refused. To put this in simple perspective, if a future Shopify founder is a South American, an Indian or a Nigerian and is waiting for multiple years to come to Canada, how long could we realistically expect them to wait before they go somewhere else? There are now 5,000 applications in the queue for the SUV program, and there are many designated entities that have a lower standard of care when approving nominations, which adds to the waiting times for legitimate entrepreneurs nominated by entities that exercise a higher degree of care in the nomination.
Those founders who arrived on work permits have been waiting years for permanent residence and have had to renew their work permits in order to continue their business operations in Canada. This was not the intent. Those remaining are still in the bottleneck. Many of these founders have raised their concerns of leaving the program entirely due to the lengthy process, with no light foreseeable at the end of the tunnel.
I have a few recommendations.
First, under the minister's authorities, IRCC should establish a SWAT team to tackle a percentage of the growing backlog by a set date: for example, 50% of SUV applicants by December 2022.
Next, to bring down the start-up visa program backlog, IRCC can implement strategies to check if applicants are adhering to arriving in Canada in the spirit of the legislation. A good example of that would be a pre-screening strategy that would allow IRCC to ask applicants to declare if they are investors of the same fund that they received capital from.
A temporary public policy to facilitate a limited number of work permits for foreign nationals outside Canada under the SUV program, submitted via each designated entity, would allow for permanent residency applications to be processed from within Canada.
A milestone process to expedite applications to the top would ensure that bad players aren't provided the opportunity to misuse the SUV program and would further ensure that the most prosperous companies get to come to Canada and help our economy.
An enhanced dedicated service channel, or a concierge line, to help designated entities troubleshoot process issues on behalf of the entrepreneurs could also serve as a knowledge hub for frontline visa officers due to the unique nature of each of these applications.
We should also focus on governance and enforcement. We should review designated entities and ensure that program objectives are being met to assist innovative companies, that integrity measures are in place and that IRCC de-designates those who are breaching their privileges.
Finally, it's time to get rid of paper SUV applications and go digital. We must process electronically.
In closing, Madam Chair and esteemed members of this committee, I do not need to underscore the value of immigration to our pandemic recovery and future economic growth. We need transparency and accountability immediately. It is a failure of our public-facing institutions to provide little or no information to our future Canadians or to partners of governments who stand ready to help.
If we speak with a newcomer in a queue, it is not always the length of waiting that is harmful; it is often the lack of information and a road map that is more frustrating. We all recognize the hard work of staff—