As Trump Tightens Immigration, Canada Courts Talented U.S. Tech Workers

February 5, 2017, 8:55 PM UTC

Way back in 1992, Presidential candidate Ross Perot notoriously talked about the “giant sucking sound” that NAFTA would create as jobs left the U.S. for Mexico. Now, as President Donald Trump tightens restrictions on the flow of refugees, workers, and illegal migrants alike, we might hear a different kind of sucking sound—of foreign talent flowing north.

Citylab recently reported that Canadian immigration lawyers have been seeing a surge in inquiries, many from international tech workers in the U.S. Their jobs and residency could be threatened by looming restrictions on the H-1B visa program that brought many to the U.S. They are also likely responding to a broader environment of uncertainty—say, for instance, the possibility that their lives could be upended by unexpected changes to how the U.S. handles immigration.

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A likely destination for many of those feeling insecure in the U.S. would be Vancouver, which is directly north of Silicon Valley, and where many U.S. tech companies already have offices. An alliance of entrepreneurs operating as True North are trying to attract jobs and workers to Vancouver by offering a “turnkey back up plan for H1-B holders working for an American company.” The company promises work and residency approvals, saying they’ll move “the current employee and her/his job to Vancouver”—though that, obviously, would require an employer’s cooperation.

Vancouver isn’t the only viable Canadian destination for tech workers, of course. In January, for instance, Microsoft announced the expansion of its artificial intelligence operation in Montreal. And Waterloo, Ontario is a nascent center of autonomous car research.

But the logic of clustering displaced American H1-B workers in one city is powerful. Successful cities thrive by clustering innovators from a single or related industries together, where they share insight and push towards breakthroughs. And, as CityLab points out, Vancouver has a lot going for it as a place to live and work, including great public transportation and free healthcare.

Canada’s immigration gains would almost certainly come at a serious cost to the U.S. economy. The talents of immigrant staffers are crucial to many tech firms, which are among the fastest-growing in the country. More dramatically, many of the largest and most innovative tech companies, including Google, Tesla, Apple, and Amazon, were founded by immigrants or their children.

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