Changes to immigration policy in the United States could drive more top international talent north. Canadian companies stand to benefit from better access to the brightest minds from around the globe.
Finding top talent is a challenge in every industry, but Canada’s tech sector has long required a Brain Gain to maintain its exponential growth.
Canada, after all, is a hub for top tech companies and talent from around the globe. The Toronto-Waterloo corridor is the fastest growing tech space and the second largest technology cluster in the worldi. And yet qualified, skilled tech workers remain in short supply.
In recent years, however, the United States has made it harder for American tech companies to hire international workers. That’s resulted in many of them setting up shop here.
Canada’s tech sector may further benefit from the Brain Gain following U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order in June to suspend the country’s H-1B visa program, which allowed highly skilled STEM workers, in particular, to work in the U.S. It’s just the latest example of the restrictive, closed-door approach to immigration south of the border.
Trump’s move prompted Tobias Lutke, CEO of Ottawa-based Shopify and himself an immigrant to Canada, to tweet an invitationii to talented immigrant tech workers to opt for Canada over the U.S.
Communitech, the tech innovation company based in Kitchener, Ont., also launched a $100,000, in-your-face billboard campaign in Silicon Valley aimed at enticing the best and brightest in tech to head northiii.
“Canada has a well-documented shortage of qualified tech workers despite the sector’s boom,” says Dan Leslie, senior vice president, head of client coverage & deputy head of commercial banking, HSBC Bank Canada. “Canadian tech graduates simply cannot shoulder the growth of the sector on their own. International talent has proven critical to fill the gap.”
In an effort to attract those skilled workers, Canada already has an array of programs in place, including the Global Talent Stream and the Start-up Visa Program aimed at helping immigrant start-up founders.
Immigration Canada also established a program to address specific labour shortages arising from the pandemiciv, and has been holding Express Entry draws to bring in more immigrant workers during COVID-19v.
In the last three years alone, Canada has welcomed tens of thousands of tech workers from abroad. In fact, a mammoth 40 per cent of workers in the tech sector are immigrants, according to a report by Canada’s Information and Communications Technology Councilvi.
Our welcoming approach to immigrants is all aimed at accelerating the Brain Gain since it will continue to have a big impact on Canadian businesses in an increasingly digital future.
How and why?
First and foremost, every industry in every sector need tech workers. It’s even been said that every company is now a tech company because they all need workers who specialize in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data privacy, e-commerce, clean technology and advanced manufacturing.
Tech companies have also been singled out as the white knights who will drive Canada’s economic recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemicvii. An influx of talent who have been turned away or rejected by the U.S. will only bolster the tech sector’s role in the recovery, and will help every company forge a path to profitability.
Canada stands to continue to benefit enormously from the Brain Gain. But the challenge is ensuring Canadian immigration policies are agile and flexible. The Global Talent Stream, for instance, has been criticized for requiring applicants to have advanced degrees or five years’ experience since so many of them are self-taught — or even invented their areas of expertise.
Could skilled talent go back south if a new administration reverses Trump’s immigration policies? Every company in every sector should be thinking of ways to retain talent to further galvanize Canada’s own innovation ecosystem.
“There’s now a huge opportunity to ensure Canada is leading the charge in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” adds Leslie. “For business leaders the question to now ask is whether or not your company is doing what it can to attract and retain the smartest talent from around the world.”
ii Twitter, June 23, 2020, Tobi Lutke
iii TorontoLife.com, August 24, 2020, This guy is plastering billboards in Silicon Valley to lure tech workers to Canada
iv Canada.ca, July 24, 2020, Ministers responsible for immigration meet to jointly plan for the future of immigration in Canada amid COVID-19
v CICNews.com, August 20, 2020, Express Entry: Canada invites 3,300 CEC candidates
vi Information and Communications Technology Council, September 2016, Digital Economy Talent Supply
vii Marsdd.com, April 2020, The Post-Viral Pivot
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