Who’s winning the North American talent war? It’s Canada

September 14, 2018
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5 min

There is a brain-drain happening in the United States… and Canada is collecting on the other end.

Since the Trump administration took a hard stance on immigration, skilled foreign workers looking to move to the US have been denied access to their new or renewed H1-B’s in huge numbers, not to mention the years of waiting list. Unfortunately for the United States,  there are only three other major counties involved in the talent war: Canada, Australia, and the UK. Trump’s policies have turned the tables, giving Canada a gigantic upper hand when it comes to attracting and retaining skilled foreign labor (and I have the data to show it).

First, let’s talk about what it means to win in this talent war:

  • Domestic companies are able to tap into foreign labor to innovate using emerging technologies,
  • Foreign workers from top international schools are able to find work in the country, and
  • Foreign workers feel secure working inside the country long enough to become a permanent resident.

Emerging skillsets are going to Canada

Big American companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have been routinely building their cutting-edge engineering teams with people from (at least) China, Brazil, Scandinavia, India, Russia, Egypt, and Iran. These three mentioned companies, plus IBM, Twitter, Microsoft, Spotify,  and more, have offices in Toronto.  Since Canada’s in-demand skills are Java, Python, JavaScript, SQL, C#, .NET, and Linux server management, there is plenty of work for a Chinese or Indian national looking to get a job in North America. There is a huge amount of innovation happening in the Canadian fintech and retail spaces, which is heavily focused on Machine Learning and AI.

As an aside, the US government’s intentional barring of Iranian nationals has angered Silicon Valley tech companies – which sports a large number of Iranian-born executives – and forced those talented workers to find an alternative place to live and work like Toronto and Vancouver. Another country on the travel ban list, Venezuela, was a startup hub with lots of talented tech workers who are now looking for a better place to live because their economy is struggling.

Top grads are going to Canada

Sharif University of Technology in Iran. Tsinghua University in China. Institute of Technology. Lomonosov Moscow State University. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Grads from all of these schools are increasingly looking to Canada for jobs in data science, software engineering, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Those with student visas attending American schools are especially considerate of Canadian job offerings, knowing that their residency application and acceptance process will be much shorter than in the States.

Skilled H1-B holders are going to Canada

In just Silicon Valley alone, 71% of tech company employees were born in a different country than the US. A large percentage of these employees are working on H1-B visas. The application process for a green card and permanent residency in the States has suddenly become much, much slower for those who weren’t already on a multi-year wait list. Many immigrants waiting for their green cards have decided that investing energy into a country that doesn’t want them is a waste of time, choosing instead to leave the States for a more guaranteed life in nearby Canada.

Canada opened their doors and took the opposite approach, making processing time for their equivalent visa and permanent residency card incredibly short. This “Global Skills” strategy means that processing a work permit application can takes as little as two weeks. At the time of this post, Canadian PR card processing time is about 60 days, which is blazing fast by comparison to the 100+ year waitlist for Indian tech workers looking to get their US green card.

More data

The last time I was in Toronto, I found out that WeWork is planning on opening twenty new locations in the Canadian city. Two, zero. But this makes sense: Toronto sports an impressive number of Fortune 500 corporate offices and the government has been very generous with its tax incentives to support innovative businesses.

I went into the Filtered database and created a heatmap of where people are moving from when interviewing for tech jobs in Canada. The darker the color, the more people are interviewing. Unsurprisingly, applicants from the United States are quite active. It’s worth noting that Nigeria and India are pumping out far more engineers than they are able to employ, despite their own up-and-coming tech markets.

Something more fun (and maybe less scientific) is to tap the Google search traffic for inquiries about working in Canada vs the states. The data above and this data line up pretty nicely. Interestingly, Russians are very interested in working in the US despite the recent tension between governments related to hacking.

What do you think about Canada’s place in the talent war?