Canadian immigration options for U.S. visa holders

Edana Robitaille
Published: November 16, 2022

An H-1B visa is a United States work permit that allows foreign born nationals who have specialized knowledge, or fashion models ‘of merit”, to work in the United States.

There are aspects of the H-1B visa program that can cause complications for workers, such as the time limit. Some H-1B visas are valid for up to three years with the option of a further three years extension. Once the extension is complete, visa holders must the leave the United States for a full year without any reentry, making it difficult for visa holders to settle or start a family.

There is also a low cap on the number of visas that the United States issues each year, at 65,000 and an additional 20,000 visas for candidates with higher education, such as a Master's degree. While this may seem like a substantial number of visas, it is quite small in comparison to the overall size of the United States workforce.

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Considering these difficulties, many skilled workers who wish to gain permanent residence turn their attention to Canada. There are several temporary work permit options available for those with specialized knowledge and many of them can be used as leverage towards obtaining permanent residence.

Overall, it may be more convenient to choose Canada instead as a place to work. Here are a few options to consider:

Temporary Residence

Global Talent Stream

The Global Talent Stream is designed for foreign nationals who work in the tech and IT sectors, or what an H-1B would define as a “specialty occupation”.

It is considered part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and before hiring, employers must first obtain a neutral or positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to be eligible. ESDC evaluates if hiring workers from outside Canada will have a positive, neutral, or negative impact on Canada’s labour market

The stream was created to facilitate the growth of Canada’s tech industry and aims to achieve a processing standard of two weeks once the final application is submitted by the potential employee.

Intra-Company Transfers

Foreign nationals on H-1B visas are often employees of multinational companies, meaning they could have branches in both the U.S. and Canada.

Intra-Company Transfers (ICTs) occur when employees of multinational companies move to the company’s Canadian branch. The transferee is often someone in a management position or has other specialized knowledge.

Additionally, employees of U.S. companies looking to establish a presence in Canada can apply for an intra-company start up work permit. This type of permit allows employees to begin the operations of a Canadian branch of a multinational company.


Mexicans who have already obtained an H-1B visa may be eligible to work in Canada through the Canada-US-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). Candidates must be qualified to work in their occupation and are only able to work in Canada in the role for which they were hired.

Using your experience for permanent residence

Express Entry

Work experience obtained through any of these work permits can be used towards an application for permanent residency through Express Entry.

Express Entry is an application management system that Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) uses to manage the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program, and the Canadian Experience Class.

Once a candidate self-assesses if they are eligible for an Express Entry program, they can create a profile on the IRCC website. IRCC will then assign a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score which is based on work experience, education, language abilities and other human capital factors. The higher a candidate scores, the more likely they are to receive an invitation to apply (ITA) for permanent residence.

Once a candidate receives an ITA, they have 60 days to send their final application. IRCC has a processing standard of six months for all new applications.

Provincial Nominee Programs

It is also possible to become a permanent resident through of the many streams in the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).

All Canadian provinces, except Quebec and Nunavut, have PNPs that work with IRCC. Under these programs, provincial governments select candidates that they feel will be a good fit in the province. Several Canadian provinces have immigration streams that are tailored to attract talent for in-demand occupations such as tech and healthcare.

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