How Canada is taking advantage of the U.S. dysfunctional immigration system

Guest blog post:  James Barrood, Founder & CEO of Innovation+….I was recently in Montreal and caught up with an old friend. She moved back from France during the pandemic and works in the innovation space in the health care sector. I complained to her about how Canada was taking advantage of our immigration bureaucracy and stealing away brilliant talent. She agreed, and also mentioned a new program that was loaning employees $15,000 to start a side hustle. I was incredulous. And jealous as I learned about this progressive and novel initiative that was even sponsored by the government.

As all the research reveals, America’s ability to attract talented immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators has long driven economic growth and technological advancement across our state and nation. However, contrasting policy shifts in the United States and Canada are redefining their ability to attract and retain such talent.

Our H-1B visa program has historically been instrumental in luring skilled professionals, particularly in the technology sector. However, recent curbs on H-1B visas have sown uncertainty, raising questions about the nation’s appeal to such talent. As I’ve miserated about in recent years, this shift has led to a slow exodus of skilled immigrants considering destinations offering more stable opportunities. New Jersey has flourished due to our brilliant and diverse immigrant talent and will be hurt more than other states due to dysfunctional visa programs.

In stark contrast, Canada has astutely recognized the transformative potential of skilled immigrants. And with nearly 1 million job vacancies across the country, it is turning more squarely toward foreigners to address its labor shortage and has set record-breaking immigration targets for the coming three years. This past fall, it announced a new policy aiming to attract a total of 1.45 million immigrants between 2023 and 2025.

One way the nation woos global talent is via initiatives like the Global Skills Strategy, which offers expedited visas for highly skilled workers. Canada’s focus on facilitating a smooth immigration process positions it as a direct competitor, enticing immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators with a stable environment.

The most recent program under this strategy was brilliant as it sought to attract frustrated U.S. H1-B visa holders on the basis of an offer of a three-year open work permit; importantly, their spouses and dependents would also be eligible to apply for a temporary resident visa, with a work or study permit. Launched last month with a cap of 10,000, it was so popular that the program closed after one day!

While the U.S. has prided itself on being a haven for entrepreneurship, the absence of a dedicated visa pathway for immigrant entrepreneurs hampers its appeal. This lack of a streamlined process for startups to establish and flourish has deterred prospective immigrants from pursuing their ventures in the states.

Meanwhile, Canada has addressed this gap through the Start-up Visa Program, a beacon for immigrant entrepreneurs. By offering a straightforward route to permanent residency, Canada has welcomed and encouraged immigrants to contribute to its economic and innovation landscape. This proactive approach positions Canada as a fertile ground for entrepreneurship, rivaling New Jersey and the country.

Rapid shifts and unpredictability in U.S. immigration policies have injected an unsettling element into the decision-making process for potential immigrants. Frequent policy changes create an environment of instability, dissuading talented individuals from investing their skills and resources in a nation with an uncertain future. Furthermore, since one-third of the biopharma industry workforce is made up of immigrants, this uncertainty clearly impacts the state’s strongest sector: life sciences.

In stark contrast Canada’s immigration stability is a major asset. Its clear and transparent immigration framework offers much-needed reassurance to immigrants seeking a supportive environment. This consistency has not only fostered confidence but also positioned Canada as an attractive option for entrepreneurs and innovators, much to America’s detriment.

Canada’s emergence as a formidable competitor underscores the urgency for the U.S. to reevaluate its policies and create an environment conducive to global talent. The federal government must immediately recalibrate its immigration policies to provide clear pathways for both skilled professionals and entrepreneurs.

By prioritizing stability, support and transparency, we can reestablish our reputation as a world leader in attracting and harnessing international entrepreneurial talent. Furthermore, New Jersey can continue its long tradition of warmly welcoming and assimilating immigrants into the entrepreneurial and innovation community.

James Barrood is founder and CEO of Innovation+, a global community of entrepreneurs and innovators. He also serves as an advisor to startups, growth companies and higher ed institutions as well as Tech Council Ventures and JumpStart Angels.
James Barrood

This will be even more important in the short and medium term as the AI race for dominance heats up. Our state and nation simply can’t afford to lose bright talent in this critical sector that will transform our world.

James Barrood is founder/CEO of Innovation+, a global community of entrepreneurs and innovators. He also serves as an advisor to startups, growth companies and higher ed institutions as well as Tech Council Ventures and JumpStart Angels. This post originally appeared in the NJBIZ publication on August 28, 2023.