H-1B Workers Look to Canada After U.S. Suspends Fast-Track Visa Processing
The United States administration is temporarily suspending the expedited processing of H-1B visas, a popular work visa that helps U.S. companies hire skilled international workers. In response, companies in Canada — particularly in the technology sector — have issued a rallying cry for these workers to join the Canadian labor market instead, either as workers or as new permanent residents.
Fortunately for these companies and workers, the government of Canada offers a range of pathways for workers and their families to come to Canada.
H1-B visa changes
Under the current U.S. system, companies submitting applications for H-1B visas for potential employees can pay $1,225 USD extra for expedited “premium” processing, a move that guarantees a response from US Citizenship and Immigration Services within 15 days or the fee is refunded. Non-premium applications typically take three to six months to process.
However, as of April 3, this option will no longer be available for a period lasting up to six months. U.S. President Donald Trump has gone on record denouncing the H-1B system, both before and after his election to office, as being “bad for [American] workers.”
H-1B visas are allocated by lottery after a submission period, and the number of applicants has increased over recent years. Last year, the demand for visas was three times greater than the annual quota.
The contrast with Canada
On March 9, the government of Canada announced that it will soon facilitate a two-week processing time standard for certain skilled foreign nationals looking to work in Canada. The new Global Talent Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is scheduled to be operational as of June 12, 2017.
With this initiative, which forms part of an overarching Global Skills Strategy, companies in Canada will be able to bring in highly-skilled international workers quickly and efficiently. The tech sector, in particular, is expected to benefit significantly.
According to the Information and Communications Technology Council, Canada may need an additional 200,000 information, technology, and communications workers by 2020. Among other aims, the Global Skills Strategy aims to alleviate those labor shortages over the coming years.
Speaking at the announcement of this strategy, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, said that “Canada continues to compete in a global innovation race. As technologies become more widely available to everyone, the only competitive edge for countries and businesses is the distinctive talent and creativity of their people. While skilled immigrants are now identifying Canada as a country of choice in which to apply their knowledge and ideas, we also need to prepare our homegrown talent for a rapidly changing job market.”
Aside from this new initiative, and in contrast to the H-1B system, employer-specific work permits in Canada are not doled out through a lottery. Instead, employers and workers can submit the necessary documentation in the knowledge that the application will be assessed on its own merit.
Although there has always been a steady flow of new permanent residents coming to Canada from the U.S., there has been a clear increase in the overall level of interest in Canada’s permanent immigration programs among U.S. residents over recent months. This may be attributed to a range of factors, including political, social, and economic changes that have taken place.
Consequently, foreign workers in the U.S. on H-1B visas — as well as individuals who were hoping to obtain such a visa, but who are now less confident — may look to Canada as an alternative destination.
H-1B workers are typically well educated and, by virtue of having worked in the U.S., have usually developed or mastered their English ability and added skilled work experience to their resume. Many H-1B holders also work with large multinationals that have brand awareness in Canada, a factor that may enhance their ability to land gainful employment in the country. In addition, many are in their twenties to mid-thirties. These factors can be richly rewarded across Canada’s economic immigration programs.
Take, for example, a single 30-year-old H-1B visa holder with advanced English ability, a Bachelor’s Degree, and three years of work experience. This person would be eligible to enter Canada’s Express Entry immigration system through the Federal Skilled Worker Class. In this system, he or she would be awarded 436 Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) points. In the most recent draw from the Express Entry pool of candidates, this would have been enough points for such a candidate to be awarded an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for Canadian permanent residence.
Similarly, a 35-year old with a Master’s Degree, three or more years of work experience, and initial advanced English ability would have been in line to receive an ITA in the most recent draw.
A job offer is not required in order for a worker to immigrate to Canada through Express Entry, but such an offer is rewarded with additional points. For example, a 42-year-old with a Master’s Degree, initial advanced English ability, five years of work experience, and a qualifying job offer from a Canadian employer would also have been invited to apply in the March 1 draw.
Workers with a spouse or common-law partner may also immigrate to Canada. Take a 38-year-old with a Master’s Degree, five years of foreign work experience, and advanced language ability, who has a 45-year old spouse with a Bachelor’s Degree and advanced English ability. Even without a qualifying job offer or a nomination from a province, this couple would have been invited to apply in the most recent draw.
In effect, H-1B holders like these could quite feasibly be living and working in Canada before the end of 2017, because the government of Canada expedites the processing of applications through this system.
There are also other pathways to Canadian permanent residence, for example through one of the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs).
Canadian provinces and territories (roughly analogous to states in the U.S.) can nominate individuals for permanent residence based on provincial labor market needs through the PNPs. Many, though not all, PNP streams place an emphasis on obtaining a job offer from an employer. H1-B holders, as well as other individuals with work or study experience in the United States, are often highly valued by employers across Canada, as they have already proven that they can integrate into the North American job market.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of the Canadian Dream
Last month, the widely-respected commentator Scott Gilmore wrote an essay for Maclean’s magazine titled ‘The American Dream has moved to Canada‘, noting that:
‘Where do you go now for “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Every aspect of the American dream is now more easily found in Canada. In the United States, 46 percent of the population has been able to obtain a college degree — in Canada, it’s 59 percent . . . You are more likely to afford a house with a white picket fence in Canada, where home ownership rates are five percent higher. Canadians also have more time to enjoy their homes, as they work over 80 hours fewer per year — and they take an extra three days’ vacation . . . By virtually every measure, Canada has surpassed the United States as the shining city on the hill, where everyone is safe to reach their potential. And people around the world have begun to notice.’
Residents of Canada also have less personal debt, greater social mobility, and can enjoy a political and social climate that, by any yardstick, is more conciliatory and respectful than in the U.S.
“There is a significant increase of foreign nationals in the U.S. who are looking to Canada – people currently on H-1B visas, from countries like India,” says Attorney David Cohen.
“In addition, there are other foreign nationals who may have had their heart set on moving to the U.S. to develop their careers, perhaps following the path set by family and friends before them. Now, this pathway may be more difficult to navigate, and even if it is navigable, the rewards may not be as rewarding as what they may have been once upon a time.
“Fortunately for these foreign nationals, the North American Dream is very much alive . . . in Canada. I would encourage existing and potential workers in the U.S. to look seriously at immigrating to Canada, or working here for a period before potentially settling permanently down the line.”