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Canada Reaches Work Permit Cap for H-1B Visa Holders in Under 48 Hours

canada flag waving in ottawa

Canadian companies will tap into a larger pool of talented tech candidates in the coming months, after H-1B visa holders in the U.S. briefly had the opportunity to apply for an open work permit in Canada.

This initiative by the Canadian government, which opened the morning of July 16, allowed 10,000 applicants to work for any company anywhere in Canada for three years, said Rakhmad Sobirov, an attorney with Sobirovs Law Firm in Toronto.

“The overall tech ecosystem in Canada will become richer and more vibrant with the influx of new talent,” Sobirov said.

The Canadian government received the maximum 10,000 applications by midnight on July 17, less than 48 hours after the initiative’s launch. The H-1B specialty occupations visa program had to close within days because of the demand, noted Emily Lukaweski, a Toronto-based attorney with Novate Legal and Goodlawyer.

This program will eventually benefit Canadian employers in the tech space, as they can onboard H-1B workers without taking extra immigration steps, said Ksenia Tchern, an attorney with Abramovich & Tchern Immigration Lawyers in Toronto. H-1B workers who have lost their jobs in the U.S., and whose H-1B visas are expiring within the next six months, can now stay in North America, she added.

Even though the Canadian government is no longer accepting applications for the H-1B visa holder work permit, Canada offers other immigration programs for tech talent, including intracompany transfers, federal government programs such as Global Talent Stream, and a Labour Market Impact Assessment document for temporary foreign workers, Sobirov said.

Canada was ranked the most attractive destination for immigrant entrepreneurs in 2023 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The group based its rankings on several factors, including access to capital, corporate tax rates, workforce skills, the strength of the country’s universities and overall quality of life.

“Canada has historically been a destination of choice for international tech talent,” said Trevor Neiman, the Toronto-based director of digital economy and legal counsel at the Business Council of Canada. “But we’re not the only country looking to secure the best talent globally. Competition for international tech talent is fierce and will only increase in the years ahead. This work permit stream for U.S. H-1B visa holders is a step in the right direction for Canada.”

Canada Reaches Out to Digital Nomads

The Canadian government is also rolling out a digital nomad strategy for highly skilled global workers in the tech sector. In June, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced a program that will allow people who work for an international employer to stay and work in Canada for up to six months at a time on a visitor visa. If they receive a job offer while living and working in the country, they can remain even longer, Fraser said.

The possibility of working in Canada for an employer based outside of the country is not something new, immigration experts noted. Rather, the government is now officially promoting it to invite digital nomads to Canada.

“Canada is a top destination for digital nomads due to its encouragement of long-term stays and the availability of permanent immigration options,” Sobirov said. “During their stay, they have the chance to explore Canadian living and potentially receive job offers. This opens up possibilities for switching to work permit status or even obtaining permanent residency.”

For people coming to Canada as a visitor, but also looking for a job, Lukaweski recommended organizing informational interviews with potential employers and meeting contacts in person at networking sessions.

“It can be hard to find a job in the country if you are outside of Canada,” she added. “The digital nomad strategy is a great way to do this.”  

In the months ahead, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada department (IRCC) will collaborate with both public and private partners to determine whether to implement additional policies to attract digital nomads, according to the Canadian government.

A distinct digital nomad category that will allow newcomers to Canada to remain for an extended period beyond six months would be helpful, said Henry Chang, an attorney at Dentons in Toronto. If an option becomes available for a remote worker to live in Canada for about two years, that would go a long way toward making Canada a top destination for digital nomads, Chang said. 

“Canada offers the essential elements digital nomads seek, such as reliable internet access, safety and security, transportation infrastructure, cultural vibrancy, a diverse and welcoming society, a peaceful country and beautiful nature to help with work/life balance,” Sobirov said.

HR’s Role in Recruiting Tech Talent to Canada

Even though companies in Canada may find it challenging to compete with salaries in the U.S., Sobirov suggested that HR practitioners focus on the overall package they can offer to tech talent, such as Canada’s publicly funded health care system and laws that protect employees.

To recruit top tech talent, HR professionals in Canada could also highlight long-term growth opportunities, such as including compensation packages to support permanent residency, Lukaweski said. In addition, HR should consult with immigration experts to make sure their company is compliant with IRCC rules and regulations.

“Having knowledge of immigration rules and navigating the global tech talent landscape has become increasingly important for HR professionals,” Sobirov noted. “With the rise of global mobility and remote work, HR’s role has expanded to include relocation, immigration support, assisting talent upon arrival and onboarding international talent in a way so that they have the feeling of inclusion and belonging.”

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia.


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