Canada has unveiled an immigration initiative to attract highly skilled technology professionals from the United States with H-1B work visas.
H-1B visas are for nonimmigrant foreign workers with specialized skills. Beginning July 16, up to 10,000 of these visa holders will be able apply to work in Canada. The move is part of the country's new Tech Talent Strategy.
“The Government of Canada is embracing Canada’s emerging role as a leader in global tech talent recruitment and attraction to ensure Canada is not only filling in-demand jobs today, but also attracting the skills and business talent to create the jobs of tomorrow,” a statement by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said.
This follows a November announcement in which the government set a goal to tackle an impending labor shortage.
By 2025, the country wants to welcome 1.45 million immigrants, focusing on people trained in health care and other in-demand job skills, and securing a skilled workforce for key sectors of its economy.
Canada's population of 38.25 million is about 11.5% of the 331.9 million in the United States, where the H-1B visa category currently allows more than 85,000 highly skilled foreigners to work in the country for at least three years.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that for fiscal year 2024, the agency received 780,884 applications from employers and approved 110,791 applications. In fiscal 2023, applications totaled 483,927, and 127,600 people were selected.
“This persistent labor shortage, workforce shortage, is impacting everyone [Canada and the U.S.],” said Rebecca Shi, executive director of the bipartisan American Immigration Business Coalition, an alliance of 1,400 employers and CEOs across the United States.
Applicants approved by Canada will receive a work permit valid for up to three years that allows them to work for any employer in Canada.
It remains to be seen how successful Canada will be in poaching workers from the U.S.
The new work program does not lead to permanent residence, but spouses and dependents of the 10,000 H-1B visa holders will be eligible to apply for study or work permits or temporary resident visas.
In the U.S., holders of H-1B visas can apply for legal permanent residence, but only the spouses of those with a pending residence application are eligible for employment authorization.
US work visas
While Canada is working to accept more than a million immigrants by 2025, many with badly needed job skills, immigration reform in the United States remains stalled in Congress.
“The last two years, it was extremely disappointing that Congress was not able to act on immigration reform,” Shi said. “And so this year, we're looking at a variety of solutions [for H-1B visas holders], including what we've seen in places like Canada and Australia, where a municipalities like states, counties and towns are working directly with their employers and industry to hire, retain immigrants and migrants to Canada so that they can have a strong workforce.”
During a 2021 hearing, Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren, then-chairwoman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, said countries like Canada have made “great strides in building flexibility and recruitment incentives into their systems to attract highly skilled immigrants, including those whom we cannot accommodate.”
Lofgren proposed two pieces of legislation that would expand the number of employment-based visas. Neither bill passed the House.
“The last major overhaul of our legal immigration system occurred in 1990,” she said during the hearing.
During the same hearing in 2021, Republican Representative Thomas McClintock emphasized that unless unauthorized migration at the U.S.-Mexico border is resolved, no proposed legislation to reform the U.S. immigration system would pass.
“I hope that my colleagues and I can come to an agreement to do what’s best for American workers,” he said at the time.
In the meantime, Canada has been promoting itself as a place for relocation and opportunities for skilled foreign workers.
In 2020, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the country’s recruitment efforts in Califormia’s Silicon Valley, where a billboard campaign asking such questions as “What if my visa gets canceled? and “What if I lose my job and health insurance?” was featured on Highway 101 from San Francisco to San Jose.
Similar questions often come up with H1-B visa holders in the U.S., where the immigration process is complex.
While the Canadian program does not lead to permanent residence, workers can earn points for their work experience in Canada and may be eligible for the Canadian Experience Class of the Express Entry program.
In the U.S., some people under employment-based visas can enter a process to change to a more permanent status and receive a green card. But the backlog of more than 1.6 million applicants means people wait years to adjust their status from work visa to green card holder.
There are 366,000 U.S. green cards available annually, divided into a complicated category system that has a specific quota for each category. The route to permanent residency through the H-1B has a green card cap of 140,000 annually.
In its monthly visa bulletin, the U.S. Department of State showed that for July 2023, someone from India in the current employment-based green card category could face a wait of about 90 years.
In Canada, the number of Indian immigrants has increased by more than 200% in the last 10 years, according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data.
In 2013, about 33,000 Indians became permanent residents in Canada. This number increased to 118,235 in 2022, the latest full-year figures available.
Shi of the American Immigration Business Coalition said Congress needs to pass immigration reform as Canada competes for global talent.
“The issue of population and immigration and workforce is touching every aspect of who we are as a nation,” she said.