U.S. technology giant Microsoft Corp. recently announced that it will be setting up shop in Vancouver, British Columbia. The location of the new Microsoft Canada Development Centre was chosen because the city is both “a global gateway with a diverse population,” and “is close to Microsoft corporate offices in Redmond, Washington.” However, the most significant reason, and the one that has stimulated much debate, centers on immigration and temporary foreign workers.
With a high demand for foreign information technology (IT) workers, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has long lobbied the American government to ease restrictions on temporary work visas (H1-B visas). Recognizing that American immigration policy is not likely to change in the near future, Canada’s more open immigration system for foreign skilled workers has become a more attractive option for Microsoft. The Canadian software development centre will allow “the company to recruit and retain highly skilled people affected by immigration issues in the U.S.”
In Canada there is no annual limit on the number of work permits issued; Canadian companies in labour-tight industries eagerly use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to recruit foreign talent. Attracting information technology workers has been deemed a priority in Canada, and special immigration provisions for IT workers have been implemented to facilitate their entry into the Canadian work force.
There is a fundamental difference between the thinking behind temporary foreign workers in the United States and in Canada. A Canadian temporary work permit is seen as the first step to becoming a Permanent Resident and then a Canadian citizen, whereas American H1-B holders are aware that their stay in the U.S. is only temporary. Those Microsoft employees on H1- B visas, who would have to leave the United States when their visas expire, now have the option to transfer to the Microsoft development centre in Canada.
This works well for Microsoft. They can maintain these trained and valued employees, they can benefit from Canada’s more open temporary foreign worker program to recruit additional IT workers from abroad, and their foreign employees can more easily become Permanent Residents and Canadian citizens. Employees are therefore more long-term. The new Microsoft Canada Development Centre also works well for Canada. The country will benefit from the influx of foreign IT workers and the increased investment in Canada’s software development industry.
The Vancouver centre will serve as a base for software development for a full range of Microsoft products. The centre will open in September with a staff of 200 workers and will likely expand to employ 1,000, both Canadian-born and internationally-recruited.