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Immigration to Canada for U.S. companies and tech workers

Canada’s immigration pathways could be an essential game-changer for many U.S. tech companies. In the U.S., Indian nationals on an H-1B visa have to wait for an average of 90 years to get their employment-based permanent residence (PR), while 82% of all petitions for PR were filed by Indian nationals.

This statistic shocked me as a Canadian immigration lawyer who works with similar applications daily. It has become clear that from a backlogged system to extensive processing times, the U.S. immigration system is at an unprecedented crossroads. Perhaps the most surprising element of this “new normal” is that most U.S.-based talents are unaware that many employment-related programs in Canada result in PR in under 2 years. My American colleague Sophie Alcorn’s recent TechCrunch article echoes my concerns about the current state of affairs. She explains:

“The immigration process in the U.S. has become a high-stake undertaking for employers, workers, and entrepreneurs. Predictability has eroded. Processing times have soared. And any mistake or misstep now has dire consequences.”

While the U.S. takes a hard stance on immigration that discourages and often turns away the most highly skilled and talented foreign workers, Canada has adopted an open-arms attitude towards skilled programmers, engineers, and entrepreneurs. The nation runs several immigration programs dedicated to bringing foreign tech talent to the country. For example, Canada’s immigration programs offer fast and flexible work permit options for highly skilled workers under the Global Skills Strategy visa program. Canada has developed innovative pathways facilitating quick transitions to permanent residence status.

Sophie’s article has inspired me to write this piece for all U.S. start-ups negatively impacted by the U.S. immigration system. I want to propose to all start-ups and tech talent: consider Canada a possible solution to the immigration nightmare in which the U.S. finds itself today.

What U.S.-based companies should know about immigration to Canada

U.S.-based companies should take advantage of Canada’s open-arms immigration model. More talented engineers, tech entrepreneurs, and investors are now actively choosing to locate or launch in Canada precisely because of its welcoming immigration policy that focuses on attracting tech talent.

Toronto is quickly catching up to San Francisco and New York as a top city for tech talent. According to Invest in Canada, there are more than 43,200 tech companies with operations in Canada, totalling 1.65 million jobs. Canada’s start-up scene has thrived, with venture capital invested in start-ups jumping from $2.1 billion in 2016 to $13.7 billion in recent years, per Pitchbook data.

“Immigration is the greatest competitive advantage we have,” said Sean Fraser, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, onstage at Toronto Collision.

So, if you are a U.S.-based company with ambitious goals on the horizon, below are some crucial points that you need to know about establishing yourself in Canada:

1. You do not need to have operations in Canada to relocate your talent to Canada.

U.S.-based companies can hire foreign talent and base them in Canada without setting up their operations in Canada. Some U.S.-based companies rely on such companies as MobSquad, while others use employee management companies like PEO Canada to manage their Canadian-based talent. In short, it is not mandatory to establish your operations or office in Canada to hire or relocate your team to Canada. 

2. You must commit to creating benefits for the Canadian labour market.

When hiring/relocating foreign workers, U.S.-based companies must commit to creating benefits for the Canadian labour market. Benefits may include improving the skills or knowledge of Canadian citizens or permanent residents, job creation, internships, co-op programs for Canadians, or even supporting your foreign talent’s application for permanent residence in Canada.

3. Be aware of compliance reviews.

Immigration Canada conducts compliance reviews for employers pursuing one of the temporary foreign worker programs. If your company gets selected for a compliance review, you will be asked to demonstrate the following:

  1. Your foreign worker was paid the wages as per the job offer.
  2. Your foreign worker performed the duties as stipulated in his/her contract.
  3. The conditions of his/her employment were satisfied. 
  4. You made progress with your labour market benefits plan.

Compliance reviews are informal and typically conducted remotely. Your company will be asked to present specific evidence of compliance; if there are no apparent issues, you will probably be found to be in compliance.

What investors, start-ups and entrepreneurs should know about immigration to Canada

Investors, start-ups and entrepreneurs worldwide want to take advantage of Canada’s welcoming investment immigration policy to do business and grow in Canada. This category of individuals or start-ups can use one of the following immigration programs to relocate to Canada:

Startup Visa Program

This program is for start-ups and fast-growing companies. Up to 5 founding members can apply for this program, provided they get support from one of the designated organizations in Canada and meet the English/French language requirements (CLB 5).

Intra-Company Transfer Program

This pathway allows investors and business owners with well-established companies to set up a subsidiary or affiliate company in Canada and relocate owners/executives, managers, or specialized workers to Canada.

C11 Work Permits

The C11 program allows entrepreneurs to operate a business in Canada that will create significant economic benefits, such as job creation, transfer of knowledge to Canadians, advancement of technology/industry, or development of rural areas. 

Investor Category Work Permits

The Investor Category allows nationals from certain countries with an agreement with Canada (USA, Australia, Mexico, UK, EU member countries, Japan, Vietnam etc.) to invest in a business in Canada.

Provincial Nominee Programs (Entrepreneur Streams)

Each province of Canada runs its immigration program to attract investors and entrepreneurs to the province. Although eligibility requirements vary from province to province, typical requirements include investing around CAD$250,000+ in a business in Canada (new or existing), creating at least 2 jobs for Canadians, and having relevant managerial experience and basic English/French language skills.

If the listed programs sound interesting, Canada could be in your future. Should you choose to apply for one of the programs above, this is what you need to know:

1. You must have a genuine intention to operate a business in Canada.

The goal of creating business immigration programs is to stimulate the Canadian economy and job creation. Therefore, business models that support passive investment (like real estate rental business or leasing business models) or do not require active engagement in business on the side of the entrepreneur/investor are usually not eligible for business immigration programs.

2. Your business must bring benefits to Canada.

Your business activities must generate benefits (economic, social, or cultural) for Canada and create opportunities for Canadians. Acceptable benefits are job creation, advancing the economy, contributing to social life, tech and innovation, etc.

3. You must have skills and knowledge to operate a business in Canada.

Canadian immigration authorities will assess if investors/entrepreneurs have the relevant skills and expertise to undertake the intended activities in Canada. So, when choosing a business to invest in, make sure you have an appropriate background for your intended sector to scale that business effectively.

What professionals should know about immigrating to Canada

Skilled workers and professionals can come to Canada temporarily (to work for a Canadian employer) or apply for permanent residence independently without a job offer from a Canadian employer. Foreign talent around the world continues to choose Canada for new business opportunities.

If you are considering immigrating to Canada for your next move, make sure you come prepared. If you are a skilled professional, these are the top three things you need to know:

Image Credits: Sobirovs Law Firm

1. Your family can accompany you to Canada.

Professionals working in Canada can have their family (spouse and children) accompany them. Spouses are issued an Open Work Permit and can work for any employer in Canada while accompanying their spouses. Children under the age of 18 can attend public schools for free.

2. All children under the age of 22 are included.

You can include dependent children under 22 years of age in your application for permanent residence.

3. Every day spent in Canada counts toward citizenship.

Every day spent in Canada as a temporary worker will count toward your residence requirement for Canadian citizenship (1 day counts as 0.5 days for up to 1 year in total). So, for example, if you spent in Canada 2 years before becoming a permanent resident, you can apply for Canadian citizenship after 2 more years, as you would be deemed to have spent 3 years in Canada.

What employers should know about Canada’s immigration programs

With labour shortages and increasing competition for the best talent, employers need to embrace global mobility. Companies looking for talent beyond the local labour markets are finding talent from around the globe and bringing it home. More and more progressive employers are now focused on building talent pipelines and tapping into global talent resources. Combining international recruitment efforts with an effective immigration strategy can be a viable solution for this talent shortage crisis and offer companies a competitive edge.

For employers who want to tap into global skills resources, I propose thinking long-term and creating an effective immigration strategy for your foreign workers. The number one problem that all foreign workers want to solve in their personal lives is “to settle.” They want to establish themselves and bring their families with them. So, if you as an employer are not helping them achieve this goal, you might soon lose that talent to another employer willing to support their immigration journey.

Aside from providing your employees with a career growth trajectory, good salary and medical benefits, you need to talk about immigration applications and what support they can expect from you in their journey. In modern realities, it is no longer an option to state to your worker, “solve your immigration issue yourself,” as it is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to find and bring talent to your company. Companies that can offer stability and forward-facing options to their workers find themselves with loyal, dedicated, and committed talent – now and into the future.

Employers can use one of the following Canadian immigration programs for prospective employees:

Global Talent Stream:

This program enables employers to hire tech talent in two weeks for the following occupations (with an approximate mandatory wage floor in Canadian dollars):

  • Computer and information systems managers ($110,000)
  • Computer engineers (except software engineers and designers) ($96,400)
  • Mathematicians and statisticians ($93,800)
  • Information systems analysts and consultants ($85,342)
  • Database analysts and data administrators ($78,000)
  • Software engineers and designers ($100,000)
  • Computer programmers and interactive media developers ($79,996)
  • Web designers and developers ($62,400)
  • Computer network technicians ($65,998)
  • Information systems testing technicians ($63,000)
  • Producer, technical, creative and artistic director and project manager – Visual effects and video game ($78,000)
  • Digital media designers ($80,000)

Temporary Foreign Worker Program:

This stream allows employers to fill jobs requiring specialized skills that are difficult to fill with Canadian workers with foreign nationals.

The bottom line about Canada’s immigration advantages

Canadian government leaders are bullish that immigration and tech sector growth are critical to economic success. While the tech industry in the U.S. is struggling with a massive immigration backlog, the Canadian ecosystem facilitates the immigration of technical talent and start-ups to Canada. In today’s world, with drastic talent shortages and an ineffective H-1B program, U.S.-based companies should be more creative and take advantage of their northern neighbour’s infrastructure, immigration policy and quality of life to continue growing their businesses. Indeed, Canada offers the same time zones, no ocean to cross, good infrastructure, subsidized health care, and lower costs of operating business. So why not try?

How Sobirovs can help

We are a Toronto-based business and tech immigration law firm helping entrepreneurs, start-ups, investors, and tech talent to relocate to Canada. If you are considering moving to Canada using one of the programs above, we encourage you to contact us for further guidance. We’d be happy to assist.