January 20, 2017 — Elimination of a key U.S. visa category created under North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could push more technology talent to Canada, experts say.
The Treaty NAFTA visa, created to allow high skilled individuals from Canada and Mexico to enter the U.S. provided they had employment offers, could be revoked under Donald Trump’s plan to bring jobs back to America.
It means Canadians and Mexicans who have built successful careers in the U.S. could be about to be told they have to go home.
This comes at a time when the U.S. technology industry faces a shortage of workers and Canada is preparing to launch a Global Skills Visa to help companies bring in the best and brightest talent in just two weeks.
Trump has promised to make the renegotiation of NAFTA his number one job on his first day in office.
Many are predicting Trump’s hardline stance on immigration could see a greater outflow of talent, with Canada waiting just across the border.
Conservative estimates suggest Canada will have 182,000 vacancies in the technology sector by 2019. The growing sector is driving the economy, with 71,000 companies employing 5.6 per cent of the workforce and responsible for 7 per cent of the country’s output.
More people are employed in technology than a combination of oil and gas, mining and forestry – a indication the Canadian economy is undergoing a significant transition, meaning it needs workers with the right expertise.
Several Canadian technology companies have reported significant interest from Silicon Valley workers looking to make the move north since Trump’s election victory.
The federal government is preparing to back the industry, recently outlining a new fast-track visa specifically for technology talent, something the business community has been yearning for since the Liberals came to power in 2015.
Canadian technology giants Shopify and Hootsuite were among those lining up to praise the government’s initiative, which comes after hearing months of feedback saying the current system was inadequate.
The new plan is to allow companies that qualify to get visas and work permits approved inside two weeks as standard – under the current system the minimum processing time is six months.
Planned changes will also see the creation of a 30-day work permit that can be spread across a year, meaning companies can bring in workers for short stints without the need to apply for new paperwork each time.
The firms say they too often lose important hires to competitors in other countries because of the drawn-out process for obtaining a visa. Some have moved to employ talent from overseas to circumnavigate the visa issue.
The issue centres around the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), a tool designed to assess if a Canadian is available to fill the required position.
Under the new rules, companies will be able to qualify for the fast-track visa by proving they need highly-qualified foreign talent for investments, to create jobs or to transfer knowledge to Canadians. Multinationals making big investments will also be able to access the new system.
The federal government also recently tweaked its immigration policy in favour of the most qualified talent, as well as international students.
It means these groups will find it easier to qualify via the Express Entry System, the immigration tool used to select the most qualified out of those interested in moving here.
The changes – which see relatively more points awarded to candidates in certain selected professions over those qualified in other areas – came into effect on Saturday, November 19 2016.
Thousands of Canadians have taken the opportunity to cross the border and work in the U.S. under NAFTA, and Trump’s threat to end the treaty has them feeling extremely insecure.
Trump was quoted as saying the U.S. loses out significantly to Canada under the terms of the deal, saying the trade deficit was ‘tremendous’ during a campaign speech.
Experts are speculating about exactly what Trump will do, ranging from halting the deal entirely to getting around the table with representatives from Mexico and Canada and thrashing out new terms.
Whatever happens in the future, for those Canadians working in the U.S. with a Treaty NAFTA visa, the current period is one of huge uncertainty.
Canada’s move to make it easier for technology companies to bring in sought-after skilled workers could not be better timed given what is happening across the border.
With a wave of Trump-related uncertainty spread across the U.S., industry experts see at the very least an initial short term benefit to Canada’s competitiveness in attracting technology talent.
If Trump follows through on some of the anti-immigration rhetoric that was central to his victorious campaign, Canada’s competitive advantage could grow into something more long term.
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