Canada Is Poaching America's High-Skilled Foreign Workers

It’s an entirely predictable consequence of an inhospitable immigration system.


The United States doesn't make it easy for talented foreigners to permanently settle in the country, even if they work in critical fields and stay in legal status. For workers on H-1B visas, a nonimmigrant classification reserved for highly skilled, highly specialized laborers, it can take years to adjust to a green card. For Indian nationals, it can take decades.

Canada is taking note. Yesterday, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Sean Fraser announced the launch of Canada's first "Tech Talent Strategy." Among other "aggressive attraction measures," the framework will create "an open work permit stream for H-1B specialty occupation visa holders in the US to apply for a Canadian work permit, and study or work permit options for their accompanying family members."

"America hasn't streamlined its immigration system in over two decades," says Sam Peak, a senior policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity. "Canadian policy makers continue to find new ways to take advantage of that."

As of September 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimated that there were 583,420 authorized-to-work H-1B holders in the country. Because a given country's nationals can only receive 7 percent of the green cards issued in a given year, and because roughly three-quarters of America's H-1B workers are Indian, there's a massive backlog of workers waiting to adjust to permanent residency. The Cato Institute's David J. Bier reports that the U.S. government "is currently processing the green card applications of H-1B workers from India whose employers applied for them in 2011 or 2012." Over a third of H-1B holders reported being in the U.S. for over a decade, according to a 2021 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace paper.

Work visa holders in the U.S. "must constantly seek approval from multiple government agencies to extend their stay, switch employers, and freely travel," notes Peak. "As bureaucratic backlogs continue to balloon everywhere, it's becoming a new normal for people to put their jobs, families, and lives on hold for months due to paperwork delays."

H-1B holders have much less job mobility than similarly skilled American workers. If they're out of work for over 60 days, they have to self-deport. And their children are only lawfully present in the U.S. until they're 21—if they don't secure a different temporary or permanent status before then, they have to self-deport, too. Green card backlogs force many to do so.

These factors can make the U.S. seem inhospitable to prospective workers and those who are already here. "Because the H-1B system comes with so many bureaucratic strings attached, countless workers are finding it unsustainable to build a family and future in America," Peak says. "We've already lost more than 20,500 Indians to Canada's Global Talent Stream program from 2017–2019."

The Canadian government says the streamlined H-1B pathway will be available starting July 16. "Approved applicants will receive an open work permit of up to three years in duration, which means they will be able to work for almost any employer anywhere in Canada," explains a press release. The program will remain in effect for one year, or until Canada's immigration bureau receives 10,000 applications.

More and more governments are looking to lure away international students and high-skilled foreign workers who are unsatisfied with the U.S. immigration system. Until the U.S. gets its act together, our loss will be other countries' gain.