Students and Tech Workers Look to Canada Following US Travel Ban
The confusion surrounding the United States Executive Order that temporarily banned citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US may have significant consequences for two key Canadian industries: the technology sector, and international education.
The Executive Order, signed by US President Donald Trump on January 27, immediately prevented citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the US. While the Canadian Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, stated that the White House had confirmed that Canadian citizens and permanent residents who hold citizenship in one of the seven countries would not be affected by the ban, numerous reports proved that many permanent residents and dual citizens of affected countries were being prevented from entering the US.
Technology industry responds
In the wake of the US Executive Order, tech companies in Canada were quick to highlight the country as an alternative destination for talented workers from the seven countries affected. The uncertainty provoked by the ban proved to be a principle concern in the community. The tech industry worldwide is frequently characterized by startups — companies that start small. Founding a startup is typically a risky move, requiring a stable environment and a stable economy in order to succeed.
Sunil Sharma, a partner at a Toronto venture capital firm, confirmed this. "With [this] kind of uncertainty, entrepreneurs are finding it a riskier idea that they are going to be able to move or stay in the US," Sharma said, explaining that applications to Canada’s Start-Up Visa Program had increased.
The tech industry in Canada has been lobbying the Canadian government for several months to improve processing times for work permits. Their efforts are expected to prove successful in 2017 as the Global Skills Strategy intends to introduce two-week processing times for visas and work permits for low-risk, high-skill potential employees.
This is particularly key for the tech industry, which relies upon an efficient and active immigration system in order to respond to the rapidly-changing needs of a modern technological environment.
Canada’s technology industry is experiencing a period of intense growth and creativity. The technology sector accounts for 7.1 percent of Canada’s GDP, and employs almost 6 percent of the country’s working population. The Kitchener-Waterloo region in Southern Ontario is home to more than 1,000 tech companies, and has the highest number of start-ups in the world outside of Silicon Valley. Vancouver’s tech industry is also a major player, employing more than 75,000 technology professionals and hosting three of Canada’s four “unicorns,” or tech companies valued at more than $1 billion USD.
Technology and international education
Many of Canada’s tech workers came to Canada from other countries, either as permanent residents or temporary foreign workers. These individuals may even have studied in Canada before finding employment in the industry. Technology subjects such as Computer Science and various fields of Engineering are among the most popular areas of study in Canada.
International students look north
The “Trump Bump” was felt by Canada’s educational institutions as soon as the election result was confirmed in November, 2016. The online search phrase “Canada colleges” saw an immediate and significant boost in popularity. Throughout January, with application season well underway, accounts of Canadian universities and colleges receiving record levels of applications from American students filled media copy. University administrators attributed this not only to the election result, but also to increasing recruitment efforts and awareness of Canada as a study destination.
After the introduction of the travel ban, Canadian universities and colleges scrambled to react as many of their students and faculty members found themselves in difficult positions. Universities Canada, an advocacy group for 97 Canadian universities, released a statement condemning the decision, and member universities quickly stepped in to voice their agreement with the statement. Several institutions waived application fees for students from the seven countries, and in some cases extended application deadlines.
Many international students currently studying or considering studies in the US are looking to Canada as an alternative destination. This has proven to be the case not only for students and prospective students from the seven affected countries, but also for students from other countries who are concerned by the rhetoric emerging from the leadership of the world’s largest economy.
Comparisons have been drawn between the travel ban in the US and the decision of UK voters to leave the European Union — a move known as Brexit. Both of these events are reported to have discouraged potential international students from choosing to study in these countries. In looking for an alternative study destination, Canada has become a popular option for its comparatively low tuition and living costs, renowned institutions, and open attitude. As the US and UK are perceived to be closing their borders, Canada continues to welcome increasing levels of immigrants and refugees — in the words of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, "Canadians will welcome you."
Canada remains open to the world
“The travel ban is widely considered to go against fundamental principles of a collaborative intellectual society and entrepreneurial spirit that has united Canada and the US,” says Attorney David Cohen. “The technology and international education industries are predicated on a forward-thinking, open approach to engaging the world’s best minds.
“While it is commendable that Canada has responded with open arms to those affected, it is crucial to the advancement of key industries that policymakers reconcile the root cause of the divisions in the US that brought about such a divisive step. The private sector and academia also need to respond, and it looks like students and tech workers may have more opportunities in Canada over the coming years.”
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