Since Trump’s election as president, major American technology companies have expanded their operations in Canada.
By Ignatius Chithelen
Starting this month, the mix of skilled worker visas granted annually in America will change, hurting fresh Indian graduates seeking jobs in the U.S. Due to new rules announced on January 31 by the Trump administration, an additional 5,300 foreigners with Master’s or higher degrees from a U.S. institution are expected to get the H-1B visas. But the total number of H-1B visas issued will remain at 85,000.
The change will further reduce the chances of finding a job in America for Indians, especially those with an undergraduate degree from India — or even an advanced degree from a non-U.S. university — including doctors and IIT engineers.
The silver lining is that the new rules for skilled worker visas in America makes migrating to Canada far more attractive for Indian professionals. Equally important, since Donald Trump’s election as president, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, IBM and other major American technology companies have expanded their operations in Canada.
There are several reports of engineers from India, who were hired by Microsoft and other American technology companies, being denied visas to work in America. In July 2018, Microsoft president Brad Smith publicly stated that the company would be forced to move jobs outside the U.S., especially to Canada, if the restrictions on visas continue. “We’re not going to cut people loose,” Smith told CNBC, the business TV channel. “In the world of technology you better stand behind your people because your people are your most valuable asset.”
The big American technology companies, as well as new American ventures, are expanding in Canada in large part to be able to hire the top engineering, math and science graduates from around the world. This provides a big boost in good job opportunities for Indians moving to Canada, given that India is the major global source for such scarce talent.
The Canadian government is making an aggressive pitch to attract foreign skilled talent, including from India. Canada, with a low unemployment rate of around 6 percent among its population of 37 million, has a rapidly aging population. “Five million Canadians are set to retire by 2035…” said Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s immigration minister. By 2020, the government’s goal is to admit one million immigrants a year, “the most ambitious immigration levels in recent Canadian history,” Hussen added.
Canada has introduced several measures to attract skilled foreigners: making it easier to get student and work visas; granting express entry permanent resident visas to those with advanced skills within two weeks of their application and within six months to other skilled workers – in the U.S., in contrast, it takes an Indian engineer more than fifteen years to get a permanent resident visa; and providing over $50 million for skills training of new immigrants.
In 2017, Google and Facebook opened offices in Edmonton and Montreal to find the best global talent in artificial intelligence while Uber set up a new office in the country. That year, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent Alphabet, announced it is investing $50 million to develop 3.3 million square feet of commercial, retail and residential space. The buildings, including a new headquarters for Google Canada, is to be built on 12 acres in Toronto’s old port area. If the project succeeds, overcoming opposition from some Canadian business and community groups, the government plans to invite Alphabet to help develop another 750 acres in the area.
The Canadian government wants the country to be a leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning research and businesses. It set up and helped fund the Vector Institute at the University of Toronto. This AI teaching and research center has attracted $150 million in funding, including from American companies Google, Uber Technologies and Nvidia as well as from major Canadian companies. By 2022, the Vector Institute plans to graduate 1,000 Master’s students each year. Sara Sabour is an Iranian who ended up in Toronto, after she was denied a visa to study in the United States, according to The New York Times. She is among the AI experts working for Google in Canada.
Besides major technology companies, major players in the technology start-up food chain in America, of founders, business managers and venture funds, are also expanding into Canada. In 2017, for instance, the co-founders of Palantir, Addepar, Zenreach and other new, major American technological companies, set up Terminal. With offices in suburban Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, Terminal provides technical talent to Eventbrite, Plays.tv and other American emerging companies. It is backed by Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures and other top American venture funds.
“It is now the tech-elites versus the Trump Administration, and it is very difficult to find common ground for economic growth (in America.) A lot of other countries are very tech-forward, building partnerships with tech companies,” Dylan Serota, a co-founder of Palantir, told the Financial Times.
Big companies as well as start-ups in Canada are seeing a sharp increase in applicants from graduates of advanced programs and highly skilled employees from America, including from the Silicon Valley. These applicants are foreigners, many of them Indians, who cannot get work visas or do not want to face the uncertainty and long wait for a permanent resident visa in the U.S.
“I’ve been in tech for over 20 years in Canada and in Silicon Valley, too. I’ve never seen candidates from the U.S. apply for Canadian positions from places like Silicon Valley,” Roy Pereira, the CEO of Zoom.ai, told Axios. Zoom is a Toronto based company that provides automated assistants that perform tasks like scheduling meetings, introducing people and organizing travel.
Meanwhile the number of Indians applying for Canadian student and work visas is rising sharply. In 2017, for instance, the University of Toronto saw a 59 percent jump in applications from Indians. That year nearly 125,000 Indians were studying at Canadian colleges and universities, more than double the number from the previous year. In 2017, Indians got 36,000 express entry permanent resident visas, more than triple that from 2016.
Indian professionals have made major contributions to businesses in the U.S., especially in technology including as chief executives of Microsoft, Google, Adobe and dozens of other multi-billion dollar, globally dominant companies as well as hundreds of mid-size firms and start-ups.
Now it’s likely that Indians will have a big impact on technology and other businesses in Canada. In February 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led a large Canadian delegation to India, which included five of his ministers. While they spent a week in the country, the focus of the visit was apparently not diplomacy but attracting India’s top talent to Canada. The delegation toured major Indian cities to promote the message to students and professionals that it has become easier to get advanced degrees and jobs in Canada. Canada’s Immigration minister said, “We are emphatically and unapologetically taking the opposite approach (to America.) We welcome the innovation…the entrepreneurial spirits, and the unique skill sets of skilled newcomers.”
Ignatius Chithelen is author of “Passage from India to America: Billionaire Engineers, Extremist Politics & Advantage to Canada & China.” He is manager of Banyan Tree Capital and adviser to Silley Circuits, a business network, both based in New York.