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H-1B visa: Canada launches new bid to poach skilled tech workers from US

H-1B application documents. (Meri Simon/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Canada, with a history of seeking to lure away skilled foreign technology workers from Silicon Valley, on Tuesday announced a new program to poach such talent from the U.S.

The nation to the north, with a population of 40 million, is once again attempting to leverage foreign workers’ difficulties with the H-1B visa, the work permit of choice for Bay Area companies wanting to employ tech talent.

“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 said in a statement.

Canada’s new “H1-B specialty occupation visa holder work permit,” available starting July 16, will give approved applicants permission to work for up to three years for nearly any employer anywhere in Canada, the Canadian government announced. Spouses and dependents will be eligible to apply for temporary resident visas and permission to work and study.

“This will expand the opportunities available for skilled workers to continue to pursue their careers in the high-tech sector and contribute to economic growth and prosperity,” the Canadian government said in announcing the program.

The program is scheduled to last a year, and end when Canadian immigration authorities receive 10,000 applications. Family members will not be counted toward the application cap.

Canadian immigration policies also provide a relatively fast track for work permit holders to obtain permanent residence and citizenship.

Silicon Valley’s tech giants rely heavily on the H-1B visa, employing tens of thousands of foreign workers through the permit. But although the visa can provide a path to a green card and eventually citizenship, many foreign workers, particularly from India, face years-long waits for a green card because of country-specific quotas.

For H-1B workers, uncertainties around their ability to continue to live and work long-term in the U.S. were exacerbated by attempts by the administration of former President Donald Trump to limit the use of the visa, and promises by his administration to strip work authorization from the spouses of H-1B holders.

Canada has been pouring billions of dollars into a push for a “clean economy” to address climate change and diversify its economy, as it also seeks to expand its technology industry.

The country’s overt efforts to persuade Silicon Valley H-1B workers to abandon the U.S. and head northward date back to a decade ago, when the Canadian government paid for a billboard beside Highway 101 that said, “H-1B problems? Pivot to Canada.”

Canada, according to the government’s announcement, also plans to offer five-year work permits to foreign citizens to be employed by certain companies identified as contributing to the country’s “industrial innovation goals,” and will provide five-year permits for foreign workers in “select in-demand occupations.”


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