A new Toronto-based recruitment firm plans to tap immigrants in the U.S. that are frustrated with an increasingly hostile environment and bring them up to Canada to help fill the IT skills gap.

Toronto-based Global Skills Hub says it is seeing an influx of applicants from the U.S., about 25 people per day, looking to be placed with its startup and multi-national corporation clients in Canada. These immigrants are typically H-1B visa holders, a status that is currently up in the air since U.S. President Donald Trump’s April 2017 “Buy American, Hire American” executive order.

With those immigrants not seeing a clear path to permanent residency in the U.S., many are looking north to build a future in terms of a career and a family, says Yousuf Khatib, a founder of Global Skills Hub.

“They came there [to the U.S.] thinking that they were going to be able to become permanent residents and with this crackdown, it’s not happening,” he says. “Then there’s the issue of their spouse not being able to work under the H-1B visa.”

The Information and Communications Technology Council has been tracking the IT skills market in Canada for years. Its most recent report on the labour market, released April 2017, projects that by 2021 Canada will have a shortfall of 216,000 tech jobs.

The Global Skills visa is a direct response to that need, with requirements in place that firms use it to recruit highly skilled technical talent, or managerial expertise that can help scale up a company from startup to enterprise.

Under Canada’s Global Skills Strategy, spouses of work permit recipients under the program also receive an open work permit. The spouse must also submit an application, but are also eligible for the expedited two-week processing that’s been promised by Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.

Global Skills Hub has been operating since November 2017 and was co-founded by Khatib and Dominic Bortolussi, who is also the founder of Toronto-based software agency TWG, and is also an investor in the recruitment firm. It also has “talent partners” in Silicon Valley and Bangladesh. It’s also hired former MaRS Discovery District project lead within talent access Ivana Lochhead, who now serves as vice-president of growth at Global Skills Hub. It’s also seeking to make partnerships with other incubators and business organizations in Toronto.

“It’s the optimal time to come into the market. It’s such a toxic time in the States. I think we’ll grow organically just because of our neighbours down south,” she says. “The value-add that we have is to support these newcomers as they enter our country.”

The firm does the work of sourcing a talent pool, which it organizes into two pools that it describes like this:

1) International engineering managers, full stack developers, data scientists, and machine learning engineers living outside North America with 5+ years’ experience; and

2) International technologists with H-1B visas living in Silicon Valley and across the US who are looking for new opportunities in Canada due to the political uncertainty in the US.

“There’s a lot of apprehension behind the global skills visa and companies just don’t understand it,” Khatib says. “One of the things we are focused on is really trying to simplify the process as much as possible for the company.”

Global Skills Hub vets candidates for English language skills, senior-level technical skills, and ‘soft skills’ such as an entrepreneurial mindset. It’s partnering with two tech firms that focus on hiring solutions, Plum.io (providing soft skills measurements) and Filtered.ai (a performance-based technical hiring platform).

Once the hiring is done, there’s a three-month trial period that it’s dubbed a “try-before-you-hire” model. During the first month, the candidate works remotely from their current location. Then they’re brought to Canada on a 30-day work visa to join the office. Then, the candidates return home to work for the third month while preparing to move to Canada on a more permanent basis. Global Skills Hub handles the visit and accommodations, as well as the paperwork required for the work permit and visa applications.

It works with law firm Norton Rose Fulbright on fulfilling the paperwork, naming Yusra Siddiquee as its lead immigration lawyer. So far it’s named one of its clients: Toronto-based Big Terminal, a website tailored to investors.

Global Skills Hub charges a recruitment fee of $1,000 per month for 12 months to the companies that it works with once the candidate is hired full-time. Its website includes a job board, already advertising software engineer jobs in Toronto and Calgary.

Lochhead says that rate is affordable because the strategy is to scale Global Skills Hub and grow with clients.

“We want to bring in a tech worker for a company that will hire 100 over the next one or two years,” she says.

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