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Governments should do more to encourage immigrant entrepreneurs to forge links with businesses in their native countries, according to a U of T report

If you ask policy makers, business leaders or demographers about the hard-headed case for immigration to Canada, they’ll likely agree on a few key points: the country needs newcomers to maintain population growth, bring skills that are in short supply here and take jobs in sectors with chronic labour shortages. Yes, new immigrants bring cultural and linguistic diversity, but the policy case has always been about the domestic labour force.

Now, a research team at the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation is asking whether governments should be doing more to encourage immigrant entrepreneurs to forge stronger commercial relationships with businesses in their native countries as part of an economic development strategy geared at boosting international trade.

In a new report, “Diaspora Nation: An Inquiry into the Potential of Diaspora Networks in Canada,” Maurice Bitran and Serene Tan make a case for using policy tools to attract immigrant entrepreneurs with desirable skills who may also be willing to continue doing business with their countries of origin. “There are so many changes in the world economy and the participation of different countries [beside OECD nations] that we should think about immigrant communities in a different way,” says Bitran, a senior provincial economic development official who is currently doing an Ontario public service fellowship at the Mowat Centre.

The study notes that while Canada attracts large numbers of immigrants from regions such as Asia and Latin America, our export trade remains heavily focused on the U.S., and relatively underdeveloped in the so-called “BRIC” nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China.

While governments already fund settlement services, such as Language Instruction for Newcomers programs, the report recommends that policy-makers allocate resources to allow immigrant business organizations, such as ethno-cultural chambers of commerce, to build better networks with one another as well as encourage their members to focus on international trade opportunities.

Bitran also points out that the emergence of the middle class in rapidly growing economies such as India’s represents a huge potential market for Canadian manufacturers who can figure out how to sell into these regions. “The diaspora facilitates the flow of information and connects people and ideas across cultures and borders,” he says. “How can we leverage this?”

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