Skilled Tech Workers Shut Out Of US By Trump’s Visa Order May Find Open Arms In Canada

Skilled Tech Workers Shut Out Of US By Trump’s Visa Order May Find Open Arms In Canada


  • Many tech specialists in the U.S. seeking to move are of Asian descent
  • Toronto is developing a world-class tech hub
  • Of U.S.-based tech workers eyeing other nations, 39% favored Canada.

The Canadian government is preparing to welcome thousands of highly skilled tech workers who have been blocked from entering or staying in the U.S. due to President Donald Trump’s executive order that effectively suspended new work visas for the remainder of the year.

"If you don't want to go to the [U.S.], come to us, we will take you," said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "If you want to bring someone in to work in your company at a certain high-tech job or a high-value job, we'll give you a visa in two weeks to get them to come in. Regardless of what happens in the United States, Canada continues to be welcoming and excited about people coming to Canada."

Alex Lu, a 26-year-old Chinese software engineer in San Francisco on an H1-B work visa, is planning to relocate to Canada in two years.

"The most recent executive order [by Trump] so far only affects me on traveling, as I can't leave the country or I won't be allowed back. But who knows what kind of policy will come out if Trump gets reelected this year? By then I might be forced to leave the country," he said.

Lu had initially planned on applying for permanent residency in the U.S.

"Canada seems very attractive now with its fairly easy immigration process and large Asian immigrant population. Plus the time difference and flight distance between Canada and California is not bad, so I can continue to work for my current company," he said.

A great many tech specialists in the U.S. seeking to move are of Asian descent.

In fiscal 2019, of than 420,000 people who applied for H-1B work visas in the U.S., 74.5% were born in India, followed 11.8% from mainland China.

A survey by Blind, a social network for tech professionals, revealed that 34% of H1-B visa holders in the U.S. plan to look for a job in another country, while 24% said they will return to their native countries.

Of those tech workers eyeing other nations, 39% favored Canada.

"We have had a dramatic increase in calls and inquiries from software engineers in the U.S. after the recent executive order [by Trump] was announced," said Irfhan Rawji, founder and CEO of MobSquad, a company that relocates tech workers to Canada from the U.S.

Rawji also said he thinks that increased incidences of racism against Asians during the covid-19 pandemic is also compelling more people to consider departing the U.S.

"In the U.S., the number of years it takes to get a permanent residency could be 20 or 30 years because it's limited on a yearly basis by country of origin," Rawji said. "We get all of our software engineers permanent residency in Canada in 12 months or less."

The Canadian government features a program called “Global Talent Stream,” or GTS, which makes it easier for foreign workers with specialized skills to immigrate there. The GTS program allows applicants to receive visas in as little time as two weeks.

Since its inception in 2017, GTS has helped more than 40,000 people move to Canada.

Between January to March 2020 – just prior to the virus-relate border closures – Canada approved 2,300 applications for these special visas.

Indian nationals accounted for 62.1% of successful applicants to the fast-track program, followed by Chinese citizens.

The GTS program “has made it possible to hire top talent beyond our borders,” said Sandeep Anand, senior lead on the global mobility team at Shopify.

In addition, some big U.S.-based tech companies -- including Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL), Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR) and Amazon (AMZN) -- have established or expanded their offices in Canada to hire foreign workers and take advantage of its more streamlined immigration system.

"Silicon Valley is the number one opportunity area for innovation workers in the world, that's just the fact," Rawji said. "But more and more companies are [moving] jobs from Silicon Valley to Canada, because they can't get people to work in New York or San Francisco because of visa issues and Canada is the solution."

Canada’s largest city, Toronto, boasts a fast-growing tech hub, but other areas of the country also seek to attract foreign tech talent.

For example, the province of Quebec accepted more than 5,000 temporary work permits for computer and software engineers, programmers and designers in 2019, a 37% jump from the prior year.

"If [Trump's executive order] affects your plans, consider coming to Canada instead. If getting to the U.S. is your main objective, you can still move on south after the H-1B rules change. But Canada is awesome. Give it a try," tweeted Tobi Lutke, CEO of Ottawa-based e-commerce platform Shopify.

Lutke himself is a German immigrant.

The chairman of Twitter Patrick Pichette, himself a Canadian, tweeted: "A message to all you H-1B seekers; just look to the North, where we welcome you (and your family) with open arms. Did I mention free healthcare? Welcome to Canada.”

Some experts think the temporary cancelation of the H-1B visa scheme will hurt the U.S.

"[It will be] bad for innovation, and will shatter dreams and disrupt lives," said Andrew Ng, a prominent artificial intelligence researcher and former H-1B visa holder. “My heart goes out to all the families affected."

Under Trump, the number of nonimmigrant visas issued plunged to 8.7 million in fiscal 2019 from 10.9 million in fiscal 2015. The frequency of denials for H-1B visas surged to 33% in fiscal 2019 from 10% in fiscal 2016.

"The [executive] order hints at more immigration restrictions to come, although additional restrictions will not likely be issued through an executive order," said immigration and employment lawyer Rebecca Bernhard, a partner at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, based in Minneapolis.

Some immigration lawyers also think Canada will see a surge in new tech workers.

“There are employers who have non-U.S. employees in the U.S. who are definitely looking seriously at Canada,” said Kyle Hyndman, a partner with McCrea Immigration Law in Vancouver. “The fact that people started contacting me pretty much the next day [after Trump’s order] is perhaps a suggestion that there are going to be more people interested.”

Betsy Kane, one of the founding partners of Capelle Kane Immigration Lawyers in Ottawa, said: “Whenever one door [the U.S.] shuts, the other door [Canada] is sought.”