U.S. Losing High-Tech Talent to Canada
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on September 15, 2020 |
US H1B visa changes have made some top tech talent find their new home base in Canada.
Changes in U.S. immigration policy have benefitted Canada’s tech industry. (Image courtesy of Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images.)
Changes in U.S. immigration policy have benefitted Canada’s tech industry. (Image courtesy of Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images.)

Back in 2016, technology, science and engineering industries in the United States saw an 18 percent increase in their highly skilled immigrant workforce. Flash forward four years, and that top talent is choosing to pursue opportunities in Canada over the U.S. With an ongoing skills gap, that loss could have long-term effects on the country’s ability to maintain its place as a tech leader.

So, why is the U.S. losing out? While that answer may be complex, two factors top the list: cost and tighter visa restrictions.

Although new “Silicon Valleys” have popped up throughout the country, the actual one is incredibly expensive. Instead, places like Toronto have more reasonable living costs, along with technology pioneers. In February, Toronto Mayor John Tory detailed results from a report on the Greater Toronto Area’s tech ecosystem. In 2019, $3.1 billion was invested into Toronto tech startups, up 68 percent from the previous year.

Toronto is becoming the more affordable new Silicon Valley, attracting more immigrants in high-tech industries. (Image courtesy of Getty Images.)
Toronto is becoming the more affordable new Silicon Valley, attracting more immigrants in high-tech industries. (Image courtesy of Getty Images.)

U.S. immigration changes in recent years have also had a great impact, as well as being costly for both potential employees and employers. The H-1B visa is a temporary work permit that allows a foreign national to work in the U.S. New measures have significantly impacted the ability of many to get that visa. According to a 2015 NPR article, 92 percent of new H1-B visa applications were approved. That rate dipped to 75 percent in the past two years.

For businesses trying to attract the top talent, that talent has tougher qualifications to meet. Even if one is approved for an H1-B visa, it is a lengthy process to actually obtain one. Further complications have recently been added to the mix with a temporary suspension of new H1-B visas. There has also been a ban on the alternative L-1 visa, which allows migrants to be employed by a U.S. firm that has global operations and return to work in the U.S.

While Canada may not have an easy entry system, it has streamlined the process. In the past two years, more than 40,000 global tech workers have come to work in the country. It has given priority to highly skilled, educated foreign workers who are fluent in one of the country’s two official languages. Fast-tracking that talent has allowed some workers to receive their work authorizations in under two weeks.

When it comes down to the bottom line, working for some of the world’s top pharmaceutical, artificial intelligence (AI), software and engineering firms without the hassle makes Canada an easy choice for many foreign workers.

So, where does that leave U.S. firms that can’t find qualified candidates? Some big companies, including Google, Microsoft and Intel have either opened or announced plans to open new offices in Canada. While the majority of startups and smaller companies can’t afford that luxury, investing in STEM learning opportunities within their community is necessary. Although it may not provide instant results, ensuring that the upcoming generation has those high-tech skills will be imperative to continued innovation and progress.

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