The Canadian government launched a special work permit program this week that aims to entice high-skilled foreign workers who have obtained an H-1B visa in the U.S. to forego the American dream and move to Canada instead.
The U.S. workforce has about 600,000 H-1B visa holders, most of whom came to America from India and China. The H-1B program allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialized fields like engineering, medicine and technology.
The Canadian government’s recruitment initiative filled its quota of 10,000 applicants in just two days, a spokesman for Canadian Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Wednesday.
“We even had a whole campaign to promote this, and we had to put an end to that,” spokesman Jeremy Bellefeuille said.
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Bellefeuille added that Canada’s program, which is unusual in that it explicitly targeted U.S. visa holders, was a trial run and that the immigration minister will consider the next steps.
The U.S. issues up to 85,000 H-1B visas per year, which can last for three years and are renewable. Many of the major American technology companies like Amazon, Google, Meta and IBM rely on the program to bring in workers with specialized knowledge of technology and engineering.
If an H-1B visa holder’s employment ends with a company that sponsored him to come to the U.S., he must find a job and be sponsored within 60 days or face leaving the country. Other limitations on the H-1B visa program include a restriction on the spouses of visa holders from working in the U.S., long wait times for H-1B visa holders to obtain a green card that confers legal permanent resident status and a limited pool of visas that tech companies want to see expanded.
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Canada’s work permit program, which Fraser promoted last month at the Collision tech conference in Toronto, comes amid job cuts at Amazon, Google and Meta that may make it more challenging for H-1B visa holders who find themselves out of work to quickly find a new job.
The new Canadian work permit program first became available July 16 and is scheduled to remain in effect for one year. It also includes a study or work permit for the family members of the U.S. H-1B visa holders who choose to go to Canada.
Bruce Heyman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Canada during the Obama administration, said gains made by Canada through its new program will come at the expense of the U.S. economy and its businesses.
“Canada sees the opportunity to bring talented individuals into Canada, and if we can’t keep them, shame on us and kudos to Canada for identifying the opportunity and attracting them,” Heyman told the AP.
“Being attractive for the best and brightest to come to America has always been a key to our success and any diminution of that comes with a lot of risk, especially since our birthrate is running below replacement rate right now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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