U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest executive order to “Buy American and Hire American” likely won’t hinder the Canadians heading south to take up high-skill tech jobs, but may see more immigrants seeking work in Canada.
During his campaign, Trump pointed to H-1B visas as being “bad for America” and at one time issued a statement promising to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labour program.” After touring a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, Trump outlined the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order that he says will make good on those promises.
“For too long we’ve watched as our factories have been closed and sent our jobs to far away lands,” he said. “We’re going defend our workers, protect our jobs and finally, put America first.”
The executive order calls for reforms of the bill that will see the program target more highly skilled workers, according to Rosanna Berardi, managing partner at Berard Immigration Law, who had seen a draft of the order. Trump’s intent is to stop American jobs from being outsourced and replaced with cheaper talent, a point he made during his campaign when he spoke alongside IT workers from Disney that had been laid off, then asked to train their foreign counterparts that held H-1B visas.
“There are a couple of huge companies that suck up the majority of H-1Bs,” she says. “They’re based in India and they face a lot of criticism because they just take up too many numbers.”
Attaining an H-1B visa is already a challenge for applicants who must literally try their luck at winning the right to work in the U.S. According to Citizen and Immigration Services, 199,000 applications were received for the 65,000 available visas in 2017. A lottery system is used to determine which qualifying applicants are awarded a visa.
In 2014, Canada ranked third behind India and China in the number of H-1B petitions approved by the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security. That accounted for 2.2 per cent of all approved visas with 6,853. India accounted for 69.7 per cent and China accounted for 8.4 per cent. Note that these statistics are accounting for country of birth, not citizenship.
Roger Daas is one such Canadian that took advantage of a H-1B visa in 2017. Now working as a senior software engineer for mobile games streaming site Mobcrush Inc., he applied for the visa as soon as the process opened up in April 2016 and found out he’d won a spot in October. So he moved from the Greater Toronto Area to Santa Clara, Calif.
“I feel very welcome here, there’s no real difference in work feel compared to Toronto,” he says. “In the software industry, Silicon Valley and surroundings is known to be the hub. So it feels natural to think that if one aspires to be at the top of their field in this industry, here would offer the best chance.”
Daas says he doesn’t think he’d be easily replaced by an American worker and that he sees even large companies looking to H-1B visas to find skilled software engineers.
With the new executive order calling for stricter enforcement of laws that bar cheaper foreign labour and the H-1B reform likely to move to a merit-based system rather than a lottery system, Berardi says the cream of the crop will be getting U.S. visas.
“Whether your Canadian or British or from Greece, everyone is going to have the same opportunity, but it will be based on your education and your experience,” she says. “We’d get the best and brightest people.”
One potential loser of a more strict H-1B visa policy in the U.S. is India’s IT outsourcing industry. Firms like India’s largest software exporter Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. have sent workers to the U.S. using the H-1B visa program.
Now those firms and other workers from India, among other countries, may look to Canada to find work. Berardi says she always points her clients seeking H-1Bs to Canada as a backup plan because the work culture is similar and the immigration process is slightly easier.
Daas agrees that seeing more workers head to Canada could be a good thing.
“Having more outside talent choose Canada as their work destination may seed our tech sector, maybe even cause more techies to form startups,” he says. “That’s my hope anyways.”
Still, Daas sees himself staying in the U.S. for the long term and is applying for a green card. If he lost his job tomorrow, he’d try to find another one as soon as possible. Currently, his visa would give him 60 days to find one.