Canada defusing American visa time bomb

Canada capitalizes on shoddy American visa system...
26 July 2023

Suddenly everything reminds us of Canada… Source: Shutterstock

  • H-1B visa holders offered more in Canada than US.
  • The Canadian Government will incentivize digital nomads to enter the country.
  • The flexibility of the Canadian approach has lessons to teach the US.

Tech layoffs have been disrupting the technology sector since late in 2022, and the stress is heightened for those working in America on an H-1B visa.

During the tech boom years, the US tech industry relied on foreign workers – but the regulation enabling them to stay is unusually punitive.

Many technology workers move to the US on an H-1B visa, which ties their employment to their residency; without a job, immigrants have only 60 days to find new employment before their visa is revoked.

More than 15% of Meta’s workers are on H-1B visas – and the company announced plans in March to lay off 10,000 staff.

Canada helping H-1B visa holders

In the midst of these tech layoffs, Canada is stepping up as an alternative option, and will soon offer 10,000 work permits to foreigners currently in the US on H-1B visas.

The move demonstrates that H-1B visas are effective for attracting talented immigrants, but that the value proposition to prospective immigrants is weak long term; given the option, H-1B holders would relocate to Canada.

In fact, Canada has already been able to act faster than the US in improving standards. Lawmakers and industry advocates have urged the USCIS to extend the 60-day period in America, but, according to the agency, the required lawmaking process would take more than a year.

Immigrants already at risk of losing their jobs would see no benefit from this timescale.

Adding to Canada’s appeal is the fact that since 2020, Vancouver and Toronto have seen the largest growth in high-tech jobs in North America. Making the move would give H-1B holders open work permits for three years – which if nothing else is ample time to look for work in America.

Furthermore, rather than waiting decades for a US green card, skilled workers can get permanent residency in Canada in under a year. Canada also issues open work permits to the spouses of H-1B workers; in the US, only spouses of those with approved green card applications are allowed to work.

Skilled professionals moving for work naturally want to bring family with them, but holding onto a job in the technology sector and being the sole earner in a household isn’t an easy or appealing choice.

New Canadian aims on H-1B visas

Canada’s government, led by Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Sean Fraser, recognizes the potential of attracting talented immigrants. The Canadian program recently announced a set of aims to fill Canada’s immediate skill shortages and also focus on attracting talent to foster the growth of tomorrow’s jobs.

The announcement reads that the Government of Canada is “embracing Canada’s emerging role as a leader in global tech talent recruitment and attraction.”

Canada has launched a website to help H-1B visa holders.

Canada has launched a website to help H-1B visa holders.

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) introduced four key pillars that offer a glimpse of the future for highly skilled workers. They (the pillars) provide a better sense of security and long-term prospects for US H-1B visa holders. The four pillars are:

  1. Streamlining Canadian work permits for H-1B visa holders.

From July 16, 2023, US-based H-1B workers and their families can apply for open Canadian work permits of up to three years.

  1. New innovation stream under the International Mobility Program

Canada plans to launch the Innovation Stream by the end of 2023. This will exempt highly skilled workers from the labor market impact assessment process, streamlining the hiring process for high-growth employers, in alignment with Canada’s innovation priorities and high-tech industries. This could take one of two routes:

  • Employer-specific work permits for up to five years;
  • Open work permits for up to five years for highly skilled workers in in-demand occupations.
  1. Promoting Canada as a destination for skilled workers and their families – digital nomads.

The prevalence of remote work means Canada is aiming to position itself as a destination for skilled professionals. Government will collaborate with public and private partners to explore policies to attract workers seeking to relocate to Canada and integrate into its job market. Currently, a digital nomad can stay in Canada for up to six months under visitor status. Ideally, a digital nomad might choose to stay in Canada with a Canadian employer.

  1. Strengthening existing programs for high-skilled tech workers

Canada is also focusing on improving existing immigration programs. The Start-up Visa Program provides a pathway to permanent residence for foreign entrepreneurs with the support of designated Canadian venture capital funds or angel investor organizations.

Regardless of its impact, the move from Canada should stand as a warning to the US that change is necessary to keeping H-1B workers in the country. Doing so will be critical to America’s economic growth, innovation, and maintaining its position as a leader in the tech industry.

Even if only for its own benefit, the US government urgently needs to address the concerns of immigrant workers.

The US needs to work on its response to the H-1B visa problem.

Approved? Not nearly enough – in which case, try Canada.

According to Sam Adair, a business and immigration lawyer, the option of Canada is likely better suited to someone who wasn’t selected in the H-1B lottery and doesn’t have the ability to stay in the U.S. Going to Canada could give them an agreeable alternative.

He also said that it’s interesting to see Canada make moves that he wishes the U.S. would make to clear away some of the hurdles for skilled immigrants.

The decision to make a move to Canada is obviously a personal one, but for individuals just starting off in their career, it may be a path forward if they are unable to get a visa in the U.S. and want to continue their careers outside of their home countries. 

For more on the topic from expert barristers, you can visit the Graham Adair website, or head to its YouTube channel.