As US snubs high-tech visas, Indians head to Canada

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Photograph of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security logo.

NEW DELHI: ThinkData Works Inc., a big-data processing firm, just hired a software engineer from Brazil through Canada’s new fast-track visa program for high-skilled workers.

“The process was bang on,” Bryan Smith, chief executive officer of the Toronto-based company, said. It took less than the government’s target of 10 business days to process the recruit’s application. Previously it could take several months. “If the government says two weeks and it actually is, that will create a whole new process around it.”

As President Trump moves to crack down on the immigration of high-tech workers to the US, PM Trudeau’s new Global Skills Strategy is taking off. The Brazilian joins 2,000 other workers who entered Canada under the program from its start on June 12 to September 30, according to government data.

“It’s more successful than we predicted,” Canada’s immigration minister Ahmed Hussen said. “This program came from the business community. They identified a challenge and said you need to fix it.” Those who are fast-tracked can apply to stay as long as three years and also for permanent residency. Computer programmers, systems analysts, and software engineers, are the top three categories of workers to benefit so far. The bulk come from India — the same country that makes up the majority of US H-1B visas issued — followed by China and France. Word is spreading throughout Canada. Biotech company Cyclica Inc is preparing to use the system for the first time to recruit an American.

As a candidate, Trump railed against the H-1B program. There are several regulatory and legislative efforts underway in the US to reduce abuse in the program and the number of applications being challenged has jumped. Applications to the annual lottery for visas dropped this year for the first time in five years, reflecting concerns about a more restrictive approach, though applications still exceed the 85,000 visas available through the lottery. To those who have watched Canada lose talent to the US over the years, the tables may be turning.

Canada’s fast-track visa program is just one part of Trudeau’s drive to boost innovation. The government is also pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into venture capital and support for artificial intelligence, joining private money investing in the country’s tech hubs in Waterloo and Toronto, Ontario, Vancouver and Montreal.

Two thousand people may be a small sliver when compared with the 320,000 newcomers Canada welcomed last year. “It sounds like a drop in the bucket,” says Daniel Mandelbaum of immigration firm Mamann Sandaluk & Kingwell LLP. “The idea is this is two thousand of the best and brightest.”

The H-1B program attracts foreign specialized workers to come to the United States for employment, many of them from India and China.

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