The Canadian government is rolling out the red carpet for immigrant tech talent.
Despite the status and sunny skies of Silicon Valley, top technology talent is migrating to Canada. Opportunities abound, with tech vacancies expected to reach 200,000 by 2020. America’s northern neighbour is seizing an opportunity born of discontent amongst immigrant tech talent in the U.S., particularly workers holding restrictive H-1B visas. They see their prospects of settling down in America diminished by a potential 20-year wait for a green card. Their tolerance of Silicon Valley’s steep cost of living and a less welcoming U.S. government is under strain.
Canada’s technology sector has an impressive foundation in place. In 2017 Toronto added more tech jobs than the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington DC combined. Canada-based tech firms are flourishing. Wattpad, a social platform for readers and writers founded by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen in Toronto, has 65 million users. Ottawa is home to Shopify, a publicly traded e-commerce firm valued at C$19 billion ($14 billion). Montreal has Element AI, a lab co-founded by renowned computer scientist Yoshua Bengio, and foreign firms including Facebook and Samsung have established AI research labs there.
In terms of global venture capital investment, Canada is in the third tier, according to a study, “The Rise of the Global Start-Up City”, co-authored by urbanologist Richard Florida. The government is well aware of the need for more investment and development, and it’s taking steps to ensure it. This includes changes to its immigrant programmes aimed specifically at applicants with technology skills. Publicly funded healthcare helps add to the country’s appeal.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau often says that diversity is welcomed in Canada, and the country’s strategies back up the rhetoric. They are also proving successful, especially with Indians working in Silicon Valley, who comprise the region’s largest group of immigrant tech workers. When Canada, at the request of the technology sector, started issuing fast-tracked temporary visas in June 2017, nearly half went to Indians from the U.S. and elsewhere.
The Economist reports that the number of Indians seeking permanent residency in Canada surged between 2016 and 2017 – by as much as 538% for those entering based on work experience. The number of those entering under a federal skills programme rose by 83%, and 122% for those recruited by provinces for specific tech jobs. The government is also taking steps to retain tech talent long-term, setting up research chairs at universities, bolstering support programmes, and in its most recent budget, earmarking C$2.5 billion over five years in industry funding for innovation.