Why is the U.S. Losing Talent to Canada? / A Case for H-1B and Employment-Based Green Cards Reform
August 3, 2023
In recent years, Canada has been making strides in attracting and retaining global talent through its innovative immigration policies, particularly its new H-1B holder work permit program. In June 2023, Canada’s Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, introduced Tech Talent Strategy, an initiative providing open work permits to 10,000 H-1B visa holders in the United States. This program aims to attract foreign-born workers who may face challenges in renewing or obtaining U.S. work visas to stay in Canada.
Canada’s program was launched July 16, 2023, and has garnered significant attention and success, as evidenced by the overwhelming response of reaching its 10,000-application limit in less than 48 hours. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) have introduced four pivotal pillars that offer H-1B visa holders a promising and secure future in Canada. These pillars present enhanced opportunities and long-term prospects compared to the current offerings in the U.S.
- Pillar #1: Grants H-1B visa holders and their immediate family members three-year open work permits.
- Pillar #2: Innovation Stream under the International Mobility Program to attract highly talented individuals.
- Pillar #3: Canada promotes itself as a destination for Digital Nomads (a person who can perform their job remotely from anywhere in the world).
- Pillar #4: Strengthening existing programs that cater to high-skilled tech workers.
The United States faces increased competition in the global race for talent as Canada works to radically improve labor mobility in North America.
The H-1B visa program in the U.S. faces multiple challenges that hinder its ability to compete in the global talent race. The system has not kept pace with the changing needs of industries, particularly in STEM and healthcare sectors, where talent shortages loom large. Further, the program’s restrictive policies (e.g., only select dependents are allowed to work in the U.S.) and green card backlogs affecting mostly Indian and Chinese nationals, make Canada a very attractive option.
To remain competitive and avoid losing talent to other counties like Canada, the U.S. must urgently reform its H-1B visa program and consider removing the cap for employment-based green cards. This reform should focus on the following key areas:
- Increasing H-1B Visa Cap: The U.S. should reevaluate the annual H-1B visa cap to accommodate the growing demand for highly skilled workers. Congress set the current annual regular cap for the H-1B category at 65,000 with another 20,000 visas for those with advanced degrees from an accredited U.S. university.
- Streamlined Application Process and Adjustment of Status: Simplifying the visa application process by cutting processing times with USCIS and Department of State (for those applying for visas abroad) and offering clearer pathways to permanent residency by (i) eliminating the per-country cap on employment-based green cards and (ii) reducing bureaucratic delays may encourage more foreign-born professionals to consider the U.S. as a destination.
- Family Inclusion: Allowing family members of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S. will make it a more attractive destination for talent, as family considerations often play a crucial role in the decision-making process.
Canada’s early success with its H-1B open work visa program has highlighted the need for the U.S. to reform its own H-1B visa program. By addressing the challenges faced by its outdated immigration system and implementing more progressive policies, the U.S. can continue to be a global leader in innovation, research, and development. The time to act is now if we wish to remain ahead and position ourselves as a nation that fosters and thrives on immigrants’ diverse skills and expertise.
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