Canada’s “H1-B specialty occupation visa holder work permit” program to run for a year starting July 16
Canada has launched a new program to lure away thousands of highly skilled tech workers working in the US on H-1B visas, a large majority of whom come from India and face years-long waits for green cards.
“I would say the majority would come from Silicon Valley,” said Rana Sarkar, consul general of Canada in San Francisco as cited by Mercury News. “This is where the talent is. This is where we’re coming to attract talent.”
Canada “is once again attempting to leverage foreign workers’ difficulties with the US H-1B visa, the work permit of choice for Bay Area companies wanting to hire tech workers,” Mercury News suggested noting it had made similar efforts a decade back with a billboard beside Highway 101 saying, “H-1B problems? Pivot to Canada.”
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“We’re targeting newcomers that can help enshrine Canada as a world leader in a variety of emerging technologies,” Canada’s immigration minister, Sean Fraser, stated Tuesday.
Silicon Valley’s tech giants rely heavily on the H-1B visa, employing tens of thousands of foreign workers through the permit. Although the visa can provide a path to a green card and eventual citizenship, many foreign workers and their spouses, particularly those from India, face years-long waits because of country-specific quotas, Mercury News noted.
“I have been here since 2010,” Pratima Joglekar, of Pleasanton, who works in an immigration law firm under an H-4 visa for spouses of H-1B workers was quoted as saying. “I haven’t received my green card yet.”
News of the new Canadian program is spreading quickly through Bay Area communities, piquing the interest of many H-1B holders and their spouses, Joglekar said. “They feel that Canada might offer them stability rather than waiting here for the green card.”
Canada plans to run the program, officially known as the “H1-B specialty occupation visa holder work permit” program, for a year starting July 16.
Canadian authorities will issue 10,000 permits to H-1B holders, whose spouses and dependents will be eligible to apply for residence, work and study permits, Sarkar was quoted as saying.
Approved H-1B applicants will receive permission to work for up to three years for almost any employer nearly anywhere in Canada. “If this is a successful program, I think there’s all intention to continue it,” Sarkar said.
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Participants in the program may be able to obtain permanent residence within the three years and citizenship within a few years after that, Sarkar said.
Sarkar said the new work permit program is “not just Canada taking advantage of a US challenge” and that the flow of skilled workers between the two countries can benefit both.
But he acknowledged the long waits for green cards confronting many H-1B workers. “This is an opportunity for families to have some security,” he said. “The feedback I always get is people just want to know where their kids are going to go to high school.”
Joglekar, an Indian citizen, told the Mercury News the Canadian program likely will have special appeal for H-1B holders and their spouses who have children born outside the US who are likely to turn 21 before their parents obtain green cards.
Those young adults would face similar uncertainties around getting authorization to live and work in the US, Joglekar said. “No parent wants their child to go through the same problem,” she said.
Rufus Jeffris, spokesman for the Bay Area Council, which represents hundreds of employers including heavy H-1B users Google, Apple and Facebook, told Mercury News it was understandable that Canada would want to take advantage of the “mess we’ve made of our H-1B system” and the resulting uncertainty for foreign tech workers.
“It’s inexcusable that the US can’t provide more certainty and sanity to our immigration system, particularly for high-skilled workers that bring considerable value to our tech economy,” Jeffris was quoted as saying.
Heavily dependent on oil and gas production, Canada has been pouring billions of dollars into a push for clean energy to address climate change and diversify its economy as it also seeks to expand its technology industry.
The country is seeking “catalytic talent” who will “spawn future growth for existing companies and a set of future companies,” Sarkar was quoted as saying.
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“The attractiveness of H-1B workers is we have this proven pool of talent that is already working in industry in adjacent jurisdictions very complementary to ours. Talent becomes … the stem cells of growth for the future.”
Canada also plans to offer five-year work permits to foreign citizens employed by companies identified as contributing to the country’s “industrial innovation goals” and those in “select in-demand occupations.” The specific companies and occupations have not yet been publicly specified.
The country is also expanding its visa program for entrepreneurs and working to attract “digital nomads” from other countries and facilitate their transition from working remotely for employers outside Canada, to getting jobs with Canadian businesses that would lead to permanent residency and citizenship, Sarkar said.