Canadian government is recruiting high-skilled foreigners in the US to move to Canada instead

Jul 19, 2023, 8:13 AM | Updated: 1:14 pm

TORONTO (AP) — The Canadian government is recruiting high-skilled foreigners working in the United States to move to Canada instead, and the program has been so successful that it met its target of 10,000 applicants within the first day.

The government this week launched a special work permit for foreign workers who already have obtained an H-1B visa in the U.S., who number nearly 600,000 and come mostly from India and China. The program’s 10,000 quota was filled in the first day of the week, Canadian Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told The Associated Press.

Fraser said his government saw an opportunity with the recent mass layoffs in the U.S. tech sector.

“We wanted to capitalize on the opportunity,” Fraser said. “The H1-B visa has a unique feature built into it that says if you don’t find alternative arrangements for work within 60 days you are not permitted to remain in the United States.”

Each year, up to 85,000 people are selected for H-1B visas in the U.S., a mainstay for technology giants such as Amazon.com Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. and International Business Machines Corp.

The H-1B visa program allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialized occupations in sectors like technology, engineering and medicine. Usually, they’re issued for three years and renewable. If they are fired or let go from the company in the U.S. that sponsored them they have to find a job and be sponsored within 60 days.

The move comes as a wave of layoffs have hit the U.S. tech sector. Companies like Meta, Amazon and Google have made cuts.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service said about 50,000 people had their H-1B visas revoked due to loss of employment between October 2022 and April 2023, and about 12,500 did not transfer their visas to some other legal status.

“Tech workers watch very closely what opportunities exist for themselves,” Fraser said. “They are going to go where they are wanted.”

It is unusual for a country to so explicitly target the visa holders of another country. Fraser said the Canadian program was a trial run, and that he will consider next steps.

Fraser said some tech industry representatives already have asked him to double the scale of the program, but he said: “We want to see what the tech sector’s ability is to absorb this.”

Fraser said he also is considering ways of boosting visas for highly skilled tech workers recruited from other parts of the world.

Fraser promoted the Canadian work permit aimed at America H-1B visa holders at the Collision tech conference in Toronto last month. The conference attracts technology workers from around the world.

The Canadian work permit includes study or work permit options for the accompanying family members of U.S. H-1B visa holders. It became available July 16 and was scheduled to remain in effect for one year, or until immigration authorities received 10,000 applications.

Bruce Heyman, a U.S. ambassador to Canada during the Obama administration, said Canada’s gain in the program would be the U.S.’s loss.

“Canada sees the opportunity to bring talented individuals into Canada and if we can’t keep them shame on us and kudos to Canada for identifying the opportunity and attracting them,” Heyman said.

“Being attractive for the best and brightest to come to America has always been a key to our success and any diminution of that comes with a lot of risk especially since our birthrate is running below replacement rate right now,” Heyman said.

The U.S.-based Migration Policy Institute wrote in a commentary earlier this month that Canada’s new visa policy was the government’s “most explicit effort yet” to market itself to U.S.-based workers with few options to stay in America. The U.S. has long been the go-to country for global entrepreneurs, the authors noted, but its immigration policies haven’t been substantively updated since 1990.

“The question is whether Congress will face the reality that the country’s long-held ability to attract the world’s best and brightest—and retain them—may be waning,” they wrote.

The H-1B visa program has challenges beyond just the fact that there aren’t as many visas as employers want, the authors noted. Spouses of H-1B visa holders generally can’t work in the U.S. and for those visa holders from China or India who want to eventually get a U.S. green card, the wait is “impossibly long.”

“Canada’s new policy toward H-1Bs smartly exploits weaknesses in the U.S. system: offering work and study permits for spouses and other family members and the potential for a permanent future,” the authors write.

The authors noted that when choosing where to live and work, international workers are weighing a bunch of factors — not just visas. But they noted other warning signs — like the falling share of international students coming to America — as signs that the U.S. might be losing ground when it comes to the attracting international talent.

“The United States is letting other countries surge ahead in the global race for talent,” they wrote.


Associated Press reporter Rebecca Santana contributed to this report from Washington.


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Canadian government is recruiting high-skilled foreigners in the US to move to Canada instead