Proposed US Startup Visa vs Canada Startup Visa

A brief program comparison going into 2022… (TL;DR: There’s not a lot to love about the US LIKE Act if you’re a foreign startup founder…)

Canada Startup Visa Program Success Rate

Going into 2022, the US is losing the global tech talent war.

For several decades, the US enjoyed the proverbial pick of the litter given the country’s wealth of top-tier learning institutions and high-paying career opportunities in places like Silicon Valley. (And this despite their onerous immigration regulations and discrimination against applicants from the global South.)

But with over 20 other countries, including France and Canada, starting to roll out the red carpet for foreign tech talent in the past decade, America has found itself struggling to fill thousands of tech vacancies that are mission-critical for sustaining economic growth and job creation.

To give you a sense of the value of startup companies and tech talent, US Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is on record as saying that, on average, startups create 3 million new US jobs per year, compared to only around 750,000 jobs created by mature US companies.

Lofgren recently chaired a House subcommittee meeting tasked with analysing how other countries, and Canada, in particular, successfully attract and retain foreign talent. The culmination of this research project was the tabling of the US LIKE Act, which is short for the “Let Immigrants Kickstart Employment Act”.

The bill will pave the way for the creation of the W-1 visa which would allow immigrants to start new, innovative companies in the United States.

The bill has been welcomed by organizations such as the US National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), the Federation for American Scientists (FAS), the Center for American Entrepreneurship (CAE), as well as New American Economy, and TechNet.

NOTE: As things stand in late December 2021, the USA does NOT have a formal startup visa program. However, the country does have the so-called International Entrepreneur Rule, or IER, for short, that allows suitably qualified foreign entrepreneurs to apply for “immigration parole”.

This status allows applicants to temporarily enter into and stay in the US for the purposes of growing their startup enterprise, and can be renewed for an additional 2.5 years subject to fairly stringent criteria being met.

In itself, however, immigration parole does NOT lead to US green card eligibility.

To be eligible for immigration parole under the IER, applicants must have raised either $250,000+ from qualified US investors, or received $100,000+ in US government grants. 

While IER is sometimes referred to as the US Startup Visa, this is not technically correct.

The new LIKE Act, therefore, seeks to boost America’s attractiveness as a destination for foreign startup founders by creating a formal US Startup Program.

But as we show in the program comparison table below, the bill and its envisioned startup visa program will likely under-perform from the get-go, unless significant changes are effected.

And while the US’ relatively affluent population of over 329 million people makes it an exceedingly attractive market for global startup founders, it can be easily accessed and serviced from neighboring – and far start-up friendly – Canada. 

In general, US immigration procedures are far more onerous and discriminatory than those of many other developed nations, and based on the LIKE Act’s stipulations, the picture will look no different when it comes to the proposed US Startup Visa options.

How does the proposed US Startup Visa Program compare to the Canadian Startup Visa?

Requirements and Considerations Proposed US Startup Visa Program Canada Startup Visa Program
Initial Visa Validity Temporary – 3 Years only Direct Permanent Residency within 15-19 months (if immediate settlement and work permit isn’t required.)
Minimum External Fundraising Requirements $250,000+ in qualifying investments
  • Business Incubator Track: NONE;
  • Angel Investment Track: $75,000;
  • Venture Capital Track: $200,000
Job Creation Requirement (To obtain a green card / permanent residency 10 Qualified jobs None
Path to Permanent Residency For Founders Step 1: APPLY FOR 2-YEAR EXTENSION:

The founder can apply for a 2-year extension, subject to: Retaining an ownership interest in the company for the first 3 years; Having created a certain number of qualified jobs in 3 years; The startup having generated “satisfactory” annual revenues after 3 years.


The founder can apply for a green card, subject to: Creation of 10 or more qualified jobs; Having maintained an ownership interest in the company for 5 years; Having raised at least $1.25 in external capital, OR; Having generated annual revenues of at least $1 million for the two years prior to the green card application. 

Shortest path to a green card (US PR): 5 years

Yes – direct permanent residency option available if settlement or a work permit is not required immediately (15-19 month application timeline).

Shortest timeline to PR: 15-19 months.

The bottomline?

As you can see from the above, the proposed US Startup Visa compares poorly to its Canadian competitor in terms of its external capital raising requirements, its revenue requirements, it’s level of complexity AND it’s lengthy applicant timelines.

And that’s before we even look at the requirements for startup founders’ families (most notably in terms of their spouses’ ability to work in the US), their employees, and the families of employees.

So while it is encouraging that the US is investigating how to boost their appeal as a destination for startup founders, the current LIKE Act, in its current format, is likely to be a damp squib. 

And until such time as the US realises this and makes the necessary amendments, countries like Canada, Germany, the UK and Australia will enjoy the pick of the crop when it comes to international tech talent.

Parting thoughts…

Since the advent of the Trump Era in American politics, the myth of American exceptionalism is evaporating fast, and with it, the country’s appeal as a settlement destination for top-tier foreign talent. 

Combined with prohibitive immigration regulations and ongoing policy discrimination agains the global South, the US’ dearth of tech talent will continue, and likely become even more exacerbated during 2022 and beyond.

And the sooner American policymakers come out of denial about this, the sooner the country will stand a chance of regaining its competitive tech edge.