In a spectacular show of interest, the new Canadian programme designed to attract US-based high-tech workers, particularly H1-B visa holders, reached its initial cap of 10,000 applicants within days of its launch. The programme’s allure is rooted in its offer of open work permits for up to three years, extending not only to H1-B visa holders but also their immediate family members.
This overwhelming response is seen as a reflection of the simmering discontent among skilled workers in the US, who find themselves constrained by an immigration system they view as antiquated and hostile. H1-B visa holders, despite being educated in the US, often find themselves cornered without a clear path to permanent residency, dependent on employer sponsorship, and limited to working in the country for a span of three to six years.
Canada is seen as an escape route when the visa term comes to an end. The techies yearn for a level playing field in the job market, something they believe has eluded them in the US.
Every year numerous highly skilled foreign nationals in the US either fail to secure an H1-B visa or spend long years awaiting an opportunity for a permanent residency green card. The quota system and the randomized lottery selection introduced by US immigration authorities in 2014 have contributed to this situation. The US H1-B programme is a mixed bag. While it sometimes attracts the brightest minds, it often benefits workers whose skills are readily available in the US. Critics also argue that certain employers exploit the visa category to hire migrant workers in less-than-ideal conditions, offering low wages and limited job security.
The recent Canadian initiative, while enticing, is still in its infancy and its long-term implications are yet to be known. Critics have raised concerns about the lack of screening criteria for the open work permit, potential inflow of workers with ordinary skills, and the recent mass layoffs in the US tech industry.
Moreover, the uncertainty that looms over H1-B visa holders in the US is exacerbated by the nationality-based quota system for green cards. This often leads to unfeasibly long waiting periods, particularly for applicants from certain countries, driving them to seek opportunities elsewhere.
Canada’s proposition is perceived as much more appealing: the freedom to work for any employer, combined with a clear path to permanent residency. This is particularly attractive for those with families, given the restricted eligibility of their children for green cards as dependents in the US once they reach 21 years of age.
The immense interest shown in Canada’s new programme may well signify the beginning of a shift in the dynamics of the North American tech sector, and potentially, a significant shift in global migration patterns.