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Proposal: The Panama Entrepreneur Visa

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Written by Matt   
Sunday, 03 January 2010 18:23
I come from a place where some of the biggest, try most successful companies were started by immigrants. From Katz's Delicatessen to Google, stories of smart, motivated entrepreneurs who emigrated to the U.S. and found a better life linger around every neighborhood corner. And while American visa laws and immigration agents aren't exactly known for their hospitality, they do shed an interesting light on how cosmo-obsessed Panama has the potential to grow in a truly international way.  "Entrepreneurs drive America's economy, accounting for the majority of the nation's new job creation and innovations. Self-employed individuals who have no paid employees operate three-fourths of U.S. businesses. Further, America's 25.8 million small businesses employ more than 50% of the private workforce, generate more than half of the nations GDP, and are the principal source of new jobs in the U.S. economy." - ODEP, U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy

It's no secret that entrepreneurs and small business owners are, collectively, the driving force of innovation and economic progress in many countries. While everyone is motivated by their own set of private and professional agendas, the common drive is to fill niches then make money. From the first time I visited Panama, there flowed an air of creativity and innovation: this sense that if you picked the right function and you did it well, great success was just around the bend. The infrastructure was growing and Panama appeared to be in search of ideas, innovation, talent, and organization.

But there was (and is) only one little hitch. Ask any entrepreneur nowadays in Panama what the most difficult obstacle is to deal with and the answer is united: immigration. Visionaries like these can usually see through the little hurdles - the red tape, the cultural nuances, the fact that nothing gets done on time - because that's what entrepreneurs do. But for small business owners, immigration in Panama is an extremely hard obstacle to overcome. Not only are visas difficult to obtain for oneself, but the ability to import skilled laborers is virtually impossible.

The potential to make a profit in Panama supplies a huge incentive for entrepreneurs to come up with new and better ideas: thus the giant explosion in new corporations created over the past five years. There is - and will be more and more amidst a recession and tightening immigration policies elsewhere in the world - a mad dash to bring in the world's skilled foreigners. How can Panama position itself most attractively on that competitive buffet of options?

No one can argue that importing educated people to create jobs and build wealth might be bad for the economy. Chile, for instance, is throwing its doors wide open, offering a permanent visa to entrepreneurs, paying them up to $30,000 to visit the country and another $30,000 to start a business. In some cases, the Chilean government will even pay for office rent for the first five years. Read Chile Wants Your Huddled Masses, Your Tech Entrepreneurs.

A potential problem with such a visa in Panama would be the fact that the Republic's government historically hasn't done well with...let's say...turning down bribes which are inevitable to nuanced immigration. This type of backdoor policy could just lead to more people buying their way in, and more corruption. There's also the question of how the government determines who qualifies as a legitimate entrepreneur - not to mention if the visa-acceptee fails miserably in his promising start-up. [Please use the comment section below to submit your suggestions on how Panama's government could qualify entrepreneurs for an entrepreneur visa and what effects this might have on development.]

All the potential downfalls withstanding, the prospect for an entrepreneur visa in Panama is not outlandish. Just as Chileans call their country a "land of immigrants," Panama too is a nation that has historically utilized the aid of foreigners to accomplish monumental tasks. It's now a time for realizing the expertise that exists (and that can be taught) within its borders, then opening doors to bring in the best and the brightest abroad: to continue Panama down its road of economic and development breakthroughery. Entrepreneurship needs to have a place on Panama's immigration agenda: it belongs alongside retirees and pensioners as the very alluring building blocks of a sustainable nation.

See here for a similarly proposed visa in the U.S.

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written by Miguel Estrada , January 04, 2010
I think the concept is really good. My suggestion would be for applicants to provide full business plans, with those on a larger budget and with more experience given precedence. A small entrepreneur visa could be great too because it would attract a whole new niche of business people that aren't necessarily defined (or welcomed) anywhere else in the world.
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written by EyeOnPanama.com , January 05, 2010
This is a useful article for Panama. I hope it gets forwarded to the Martinelli Administration. Chile taking progressive steps to recruit entrepreneurs and Panama could do the same. Here are a couple ideas:

1. Tourist Visa plus. 90 days is not enough time for potential entrepreneurs to survey the Panamanian business landscape. It takes time on the ground in Panama to formulate a well thought out business plan. Allow potential business entrepreneurs to extend their tourist visa, or apply for a 6 months to a year entrepreneur visa.

2. Help the little guy. The Martinelli Administration is very eager to accommodate the needs of multi-national corporations by offering tax and hiring incentives. However, these incentives (like not being obligated to meet the Panamanian employee hiring quota) are not extended to the small business. To foster more small business growth, the Administration should extend it's incentives to all business, not just large multi-national corporations.

3. Subsided Training Programs. Chile's policy of subsiding up to 25k of a locals salary NEEDS to be replicated in Panama. It is the equivalent to a internship program. It would encourage business to hire locals and allow those locals to develop their skills in a professional environment. A win-win for everyone.

`Evan
http://www.eyeonpanama.com smilies/grin.gif smilies/grin.gif
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Stephen Lewis
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written by LewDog , January 13, 2010
It does feel like punishment having to leave every 90 days...especially with a business...it is not easy nor is it cheap to do...just as you start to gain some momentum and save some money, you are forced to take a 3 day vacation and leave the business attended by whomever you trust the most??!!...it's either that or close for three days (no more paying late departure fees)....Panama should charge us the 300-500 dollars that we spend in Costa Rica/Colombia/US or wherever you choose to go to extend the "tourist" visa...heck I would pay more than that per year/6 months just so I can put my feet up at the end of the day and not stress...hopefully we'll see some ACTUAL changes soon...until then enjoy your flight/bus ride/hitchhike/boat ride/border crossing/or bribe!!
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No
written by Norma Stool , January 17, 2010
they should just take your money and then not give you a visa. They will be doing you a favor.
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Sponsor Visa
written by Alan Hawksworth , February 12, 2010

Maybe establish a "Sponsorship Visa Program"
Where in lieu of employing locals or enter and exiting, you could opt to sponsor the further education of Panamanians
Big corporations could sponsor the colleges, while small buissiness/visitors sponsor the student pool.
Hey, You can do it for trees why not people, afterall they are the countrys most valuable and productive resource.
It could be paid yearly so their is no big up front outlay.
This way everybody is happy!

Alan






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