What challenges do Toronto immigrant entrepreneurs face?

The following article was submitted by Prof. Lucia Lo (left), Department of Geography, Faculty of Arts, who was a presenter at a recent seminar series organized by the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement.

The opportunities and challenges facing Toronto’s immigrant entrepreneurs were discussed by Prof. Lucia Lo of the Geography Department at York and her research collaborators Prof. Marie Truelove, Ryerson University, and Prof. Carlos Teixeira, University of Toronto, on Jan. 31. The event launched the Domain Seminar Series at CERIS (the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement).

The talk, which drew over 70 people, including academics, NGOs, government officials and ethnic media, was based on a new 90-page long CERIS working paper entitled “Cultural Resources, Ethnic Strategies, and Immigrant Entrepreneurship: A Comparative Study of Five Immigrant Groups in the Toronto CMA” [Census Metropolitan Area]. The paper is currently being re-worked into a book manuscript.

The CERIS-funded study investigated the behaviour, strategies and barriers faced by Polish, Portuguese, Caribbean, Korean and Somali immigrant business owners in Toronto, with an attempt to address why some groups are more involved in business and more successful than others. This is a very timely study, as it echoes recent statistics that immigrant workers arriving in the late 1980s and 1990s are more likely to be self-employed than previous generations of immigrant workers.

The five immigrant groups in the study were chosen on the basis of their immigration history, immigration class, community size and race.

Lo and her colleagues told the gathering that entrepreneurial opportunities are not equal to all immigrants. The more established, male, middle-aged and university-educated immigrants with prior management or skilled experience in paid work have advantage over others.

They found a general distinction in the opportunities and challenges faced by the Polish and Portuguese entrepreneurs and those by the Caribbeans, Koreans and Somalis. Polish and Portuguese firms are larger and more diversified, moving beyond consumer and distributive areas traditionally associated with immigrant businesses.

In addition, while the majority of immigrant entrepreneurs were not pushed by institutional discrimination into business pursuit, institutional discrimination was hinted at as a barrier during the establishment phase and the day-to-day operation of many businesses belonging to the visible minority groups of the sample. In particular, getting financing was a persistent problem for the Caribbeans, Koreans and Somalis. Their more recent history in Canada, their class of immigration and the size of their community do not explain the whole story.

With our economic growth relying more and more on immigrants, Lo and her colleagues suggest various government offices, with programs targeting entrepreneurs, find more and better methods of disseminating information to non-business immigrants. They also invite financial institutions to be mentors and partners for new immigrant businesses, appealing for pilot projects among those groups whose loan applications are normally rejected.