U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered federal agencies to consider tightening visa regulations for foreign workers, arguing for a “long overdue reform of H-1B visas.” The H-1B program allows American companies to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations, including fields like science, engineering, and information technology.
Many of the approximately 85,000 H-1B workers who come to the U.S. each year work in these fields, as their expertise is often not available locally.
President Trump made the remarks before signing the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in doing so returning to a state that proved pivotal in last November’s election. As one of the so-called “Rust belt” states, Trump’s campaign pitch to protect manufacturing jobs by targeting immigration, both legal and illegal, resonated among Wisconsin voters, who returned a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1984. In his speech, Trump remarked that visas should be given “to the highest skilled and highest paid only.”
Following Trump’s order, the contrast between the policies of the U.S. and Canadian governments over recent weeks and months could hardly be more defined. Less than three weeks ago, Canada reaffirmed its goal to make it easier for Canadian companies to bring in global talent in a matter of two weeks when it presented its annual budget. The resulting Global Talent Stream, which forms part of the government’s Global Skills Strategy, is scheduled to be operational as of June 12, 2017.
In contrast, H-B visas typically take three to six months to process, and Trump’s administration has already cancelled the premium processing option, which ensured an answer in far less time. An additional difference between the U.S. and Canadian systems is how visas are allocated; in Canada, each application is assessed on merit according to the program requirements, whereas H-1B visas are allocated by lottery. Last year, demand outstripped supply three-to-one.
In its recent budget, the government of Canada also pledged to provide $279.8 million over five years, starting this year into next, and $49.8 million per year thereafter, for the continued delivery of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP), two programs through which companies operating in Canada may hire foreign workers.
Just hours before Trump’s announcement, another country competing for global talent, Australia, cancelled its popular ‘457’ visa program for foreign workers, to be replaced by a program with stricter criteria. Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull, prefacing his American counterpart, stated that “We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.”
Canada’s technology sector is experiencing rapid growth, with both Vancouver and the Toronto-Waterloo corridor both vying the title of ‘Silicon Valley of the North.’ The professional, scientific, and technical services sector is the fifth-largest employer in Canada, employing more than 1.3 million people across the country.
Talented international workers may now look to Canada rather than the U.S. in order to grow their careers in an innovative environment. Moreover, a number of large tech companies in the U.S. are said to be looking at setting up satellite offices in Canada due to the current U.S. administration’s policies.
“The crackdown seems to be focused on ensuring future H-1B visas apply only to highly skilled labour. This means foreign workers will likely have to develop an expertise in an emerging technology that is in high demand, or become an expert in a specific but mature solution with a low penetration of the market of the US, or become a very senior resource in your domain or vertical. This last scenario is harder to achieve as it requires a long term investment,” explains Ivan Cardona, President at Opticca, a Montreal-based consulting and technology services company that specializes in helping IT organizations align with business objectives.
“We believe the change in laws could be a very big benefit for Canadian companies with large consulting practices, as well as the highly-specialized firms, because Canadian firms will still be able to continue to propose a mix of on-site and off-site resources.”
It is not only the companies themselves who are likely to benefit from Canada’s more open policy. The government of Canada stated in its budget that its policies are designed ‘to bring new skills to Canada and create more Canadian jobs.’
For foreign workers, one major upside of working in Canada is the opportunity to transition to permanent resident status. Workers who may otherwise have been interested in working in the U.S., or who have worked there but don’t foresee a future in the country, are typically well educated and have usually developed or mastered their English ability. These factors are rewarded across many of Canada’s permanent immigration programs, including the federal economic programs managed under the Express Entry system.
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