Immigrant-owned businesses have a positive impact on international trade. They are key drivers for innovation, economic growth, and can play a crucial role in Canada’s successful export story.
Immigrants also diversify international markets as they are inclined to export beyond the United States and focus more on emerging markets. A report by the Conference Board of Canada found that 12 percent of immigrant-owned businesses are exporters that sell goods and services to non-U.S. markets compared with 7 per cent for non-immigrant businesses. Another report found that a majority of immigrants were entrepreneurs. Recent immigrants are also more likely to strengthen Canada’s trade connections with their country of origin.
Here are a few reasons why immigrants may have a competitive advantage in being successful exporters:
- Risk takers: Moving to a new country and setting up roots in a new place is not an easy experience. One of the barriers immigrants face is recognition of their educational degrees in their new home country. This challenge usually turns into a motivator for them to consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option. Living in different places helps them adapt and innovate in their professional lives. Generally, immigrants tend to be more resilient and natural risk-takers.
- Leveraging experience: Many professional skills are portable. For example, good communication, technological expertise, and sales proficiency are a few of the skills that can be profitably employed anywhere. It is especially true in the case of international trade. For example, consider a tech immigrant entrepreneur who has moved to Canada from a developing country and has set up her own innovative educational device firm that can help educate children from low income families in developing societies. Her local networks, professional experience, and cultural understanding can help this entrepreneur overcome several barriers if she decides to export to her country of origin and to other developing societies.
- Cross Cultural connections: Bicultural competencies provide competitive advantage for immigrants as they get into international markets. Ties to the country of origin can be very productive, especially for newcomers who maintain strong connections to their personal and professional networks in their country of origin. Knowledge of the local business culture, customer trends, and local language in their country of origin provides them an edge as an exporter. Dealing with different cultures also makes immigrants comfortable in identifying global business opportunities and expanding to more international markets.
- Communication: Immigrants are linguistically more diversified which helps if you are negotiating with clients in an international market. If you know the language of you target international market, it is easy to negotiate as you understand the nuances of the local language. According to Stats Canada, “In 2016, nearly three quarters (72.5%) of immigrants had a language other than English or French as their mother tongue, compared with 50.7% in 1971. Similarly, an increasing proportion of immigrants speak an “other” language most often at home.” From my personal experience as an importer, I experienced firsthand how knowing the local language gave me an advantage when negotiating with my suppliers.
- Networks: Immigrants can easily connect markets because of their networks and associations in the local communities in their country of origin. In any business, developing relationships with customers and suppliers takes time. Immigrants have a competitive advantage because of their existing networks in international markets, especially their country of origin. Such connections can also solidify effective partnerships in the target market, provide valuable market intelligence, human and social capital and can help in taking effective international trade decisions.
Women’s Enterprise Centre clients Mahsa Arbabi and Silvia Pogolsha are examples of successful immigrant entrepreneurs and how they have leveraged their skills and networks into business success after they moved to Canada.