TRUMP, THE H-1B VISA & CANADA’S GLOBAL SKILLS STRATEGY
UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDING FUTURE OF H-1B VISA
President Donald Trump was elected, in part, because of his nationalist and protectionist economic platform. A big part of his campaign was “making America great again” by “bringing back jobs”. He has been very critical of free-trade agreements, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
One dimension of this type of administration is protecting the American working class from companies seeking to move their businesses off-shore. Trump has been very vocal about these types of measures, in particular in the manufacturing sector. Another dimension, however, is protecting American workers from being displaced by foreign workers.
The H-1B visa is a popular work visa that admits up to 85,000 foreign workers into the United States every year. Applicants have to work in a specialty occupation and have a job offer from a U.S. employer, among other requirements. 65,000 of those visas are distributed in a lottery, while 20,000 are first-come, first-served for applicants with higher education.
Trump’s position on the H-1B visa isn’t particularly clear. On one hand, he has been highly critical of the program because “the influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage.”
However, when asked whether he was in favour of H-1Bs or opposed to them during the Republican debate on October 28, 2016, he said:
I’m in favor of people coming into this country legally. And you know what? They can have it any way you want. You can call it visas, you can call it work permits, you can call it anything you want… As far as the visas are concerned, if we need people, it’s fine. – President Donald Trump
Now, President Trump has assigned the departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security, and State to take action to crack down on “fraud and abuse” in the U.S. immigration system to protect American workers, and to propose reforms to ensure H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest-paid applicant. He has also suspended a practice that allows employers to pay a fee to have their applications processed within six weeks
CANADA’S GLOBAL SKILLS STRATEGY
In contrast to the Trump administration’s protectionist, closed economy agenda, Canada has been pursuing more free-trade agreements, such as the recently signed Canadian-European Trade Agreement (CETA), and has been developing programs to help Canadian employers gain access to foreign workers.
The Canada’s Global Skills Strategy, announced last fall, is a new initiative designed to help Canadian employers access the skills and expertise of foreign workers to help Canadian businesses compete in the global economy.
The Global Talent Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is one aspect of the Global Skills Strategy. Set to launch in June, 2017, the Global Talent Stream will set a two-week standard for processing visas and work permits for low-risk, high-skill foreign workers in specific occupations.
In the face of uncertainty surrounding the future of the H-1B visa, and rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, many skilled workers are looking at opportunities to come to Canada through the TFWP instead.
One of the great advantages of the TFWP is that the experience of living and working in Canada may increase foreign nationals’ eligibility to immigrate to Canada permanently.
Canadian work experience is highly valued in federal economic immigration programs, and many provinces also have programs designed for foreign nationals with experience working for an employer located in the province. A valid job offer from a Canadian employer can also greatly increase your eligibility. Finally, while living and working in Canada, many temporary workers’ English or French language ability improves drastically, and language ability is a major factor in eligibility for Canadian immigration programs.
Reviews and recommendations to the TFWP have also focused on establishing a more direct pathway to permanent residence for temporary workers. This just goes to show the stark differences between the Canadian and American agendas when it comes to the future of immigration.