A Kitchener startup is on the front lines of helping attract some of the world’s best minds to Canada and of pushing back against anti-immigration sentiment, says federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen.

Thursday, Hussen was visiting Kitchener-based ApplyBoard, a one-stop website for international students seeking admission to any of 1,000 schools in North America.

One day after ApplyBoard held the official opening of its new Kitchener office space, Hussen and Kitchener Centre MP Raj Saini greeted the enthusiastic crowd of some 120 blue-and-white-clad ApplyBoard staff.

Hussen told them that the last time he visited, ApplyBoard had about 70 team members. But the company has grown to 172 over the past year, with another 45 to 50 roles still to fill. The bulk of those jobs are in Kitchener, but there are satellite offices in China, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh, and ApplyBoard is looking to expand into Latin America and Australia.

Students from 100 countries now use ApplyBoard to match their academic record and field of study from the 1,000 institutions partnering with ApplyBoard. ApplyBoard also walks students through the visa application process.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, with Kitchener Centre MP Raj Saini with Applyboard co-founders

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, with Kitchener Centre MP Raj Saini,
second from left, and the ApplyBoard co-founders. (Photo: Bill Bean for Communitech)

ApplyBoard CEO Martin Basiri, who himself came to Canada from Iran as an international student, said that every 2.5 international students who come to Canada help create one indirect job in the country. “We are able to create over 4,000 indirect jobs in the country. It feels so good.”

Basiri told the minister that the workplace values and the diversity of his team — ApplyBoard staff is 50 per cent female and from many countries — means “that you get the best practices ... from all over the world.

“We speak over 20 languages here,” Basiri said.

Hussen congratulated Basiri and his brothers — CMO Meti Basiri and COO Massi Basiri — for “the creativity, hard work, ingenuity and ambition you have for this company.”

Hussen said ApplyBoard represents “a signal and a message to everyone that is now tapping into this anti-immigration narrative. This is the answer to that.

“When people say, what does immigration do for Canada, this is the answer. It’s about innovation, it’s about growth, it’s about jobs and it’s about ambition for our country.”

Hussen told the crowd that international students contribute more money to the Canadian economy than the softwood lumber industry: $15.5 billion annually into Canada’s GDP.

Hussen said the students who come to Canada through ApplyBoard change the dynamics both in classrooms and the wider world: “They enrich our communities.”

Hussen said that as immigration minister, he faces caps on the number of immigrants Canada will accept each year, “but there is no limit on international students. If we get double the number next year, that’s fine. … They keep adding to the economy and our country.”

Blue brain-shaped stress balls with Applyboard's logo on them beside notebooks on a table

Communitech photo: Sara Jalali

He expressed concern about those who use social media to stir up distrust of immigrants. “Those messages are coming from outside of Canada. They are meant to destroy what has been really good for Canada, which is immigration.”

“That system, that has allowed us to harness the energy of the best and the brightest, millions of immigrants, that system is now under attack by some who will try to divide Canadians against each other. The tool that they are using is fear. They are trying to blame a loss of a job on an immigrant. We say the best way to fight that fear is with facts.”

Hussen promised to spread the news of the work being done by ApplyBoard: “More and more Canadians should know what you have done here: the job growth, the prosperity, the skills you are developing, but also the footprint you are leaving for the rest of the country.”

Investors are looking at Canada, Hussen said, because they know they can open an operation here and get the best talent from around the world. “Immigration is an economic difference-maker for Canada …. We are lucky to live in a country where people view differences as a source of strength.”