Indian tech workers on H-1B visas increasingly moving to Canada

Indian American tech workers on H-1B visas are immigrating to Canada at an “astonishing pace” thanks to more restrictive immigration policies under the Trump administration and the difficulty of obtaining green cards in the U.S., according to an expert.

The number of Indians, who became permanent residents in Canada, increased from 39,340 in 2016 to 80,685 in 2019, through the first 11 months of 2019, an increase of more than 105%, according to Stuart Anderson, Executive Director of National Foundation for American Policy.

In an article in Forbes magazine Feb. 3, Anderson said full-year Canadian statistics will likely show more than 85,000 Indian immigrants in 2019.

“Canada is benefiting from a diversion of young Indian tech workers from U.S. destinations, largely because of the challenges of obtaining and renewing H-1B visas and finding a reliable route to U.S. permanent residence,” the article quoted Peter Rekai, founder of the Toronto-based immigration law firm Rekai LLP, as saying in an interview.

“I think mainly it is the tremendous amount of uncertainty and confusion about the future of H-1B workers that is prompting them to move to Canada, and even to U.K., and in some cases even back to India for want of any viable alternative,” Bharath Goli who had briefly worked for Intel before working with Gap Tech in San Francisco Bay area told India Abroad in an interview in January last year.

Rekai notes that many U.S. and Indian technology companies have opened affiliate offices in Canada. The Canadian government, for its part, has streamlined its work permit process for tech workers and provides a clear path to permanent residence.

In the U.S., the denial rate for H-1B petitions for continuing employment (primarily for existing employees) is 12% under the Trump administration, four times higher than the denial rate of 3% in FY 2015. For new employees on H-1B petitions the denial rate was 24% through the first three quarters of FY 2019, compared to 6% in FY 2015.

Anderson in the Forbes article said quoting Rekai that, “Indian nationals are ideally suited to Canada’s points-based selection system, which places a high value on youth, post-secondary education, and high-skilled foreign and (especially Canadian) work experience.”

High-level English language skills are required to qualify for permanent residence under Canada’s Express Entry points system, which may be one reason the number of immigrants from China has remained relatively flat in the past few years, the article noted.

Chinese nationals who do not garner enough points through Express Entry could still gain permanent residence under programs run by Canadian provinces, which focus on skills needed by local employers and place less importance on language ability.

The article said another factor in the rise of Indian immigrants to Canada is the ability of Canadian universities to attract international students at record levels. In 2017, the number of international students in Canada increased by 20%. In 2018, international student enrollment at Canadian universities rose again, by 16%.

At the same time, the Forbes article noted, that at U.S. universities new enrollment of international students declined by more than 10% between the 2015-16 and 2018-2019 academic years.

New restrictions on H-1B visas and international students, combined with long waits for employment-based green cards, make America a less attractive destination than Canada for many high-skilled immigrants and their employers. Based on current trends, the situation is likely to grow worse for U.S. companies seeking to attract talent to America.

It said Canada plans to increase legal immigration. “To further ease the challenges of a shrinking labor force and an aging population, our new multi-year immigration levels plan sets out the highest levels of permanent residents that Canada will welcome in recent history,” the article quoted Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen in 2018. By 2021, Canada is expected ,the article said, to increase legal immigration to 350,000 a year, a rise of 63,490, or 22%, from the 2017 level of 286,510.

According to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis, Anderson wrote in the article, in the United States, legal immigration fell by 7% between 2016 and 2018, one of the first concrete signs of the impact of the Trump presidency on legal immigration.

Due to Trump administration policies, and without any changes in the law by Congress, the annual number of new legal immigrants to the U.S. could decline by as much as 30%, or up to 350,000 a year, from the 2016 U.S. immigration level of 1,183,505, he said.

In a report in 2018 the Washington Post noted that Canadian businesses sense an opportunity in the current visa situation in the U.S. for foreign workers, adding that the Canadian tech scene has sought for years to compete with Silicon Valley, trying to lure talent north.

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