Canada's new Genius Visas may be the best thing ever for the US tech industry

  • Mara
  • 2017-10-18



The US scientific and business communities are becoming increasingly uneasy about the future of special skill or Genius Visas, like the H1B. And rightly so.

Dr. Michio Kaku, New York Times best selling author and physicist, called the H1B visa a “secret bullet” without which Silicon Valley wouldn’t exist. 

In April, President Trump signed an executive order mandating significant change to a number of immigration programs, including the H1B. Nobody knows what the final picture will look like. However, the visa program that helped build some of the greatest companies on Earth will likely have a new and much narrower focus. And that could be a problem.

Meanwhile, Canada is quietly launching expanded and expedited Genius Visa programs (My own nickname for them).  The US has long been the brain that sucked up all the best talent from around the world. Suddenly, big parts of that talent magnet may be turned off. Many Canadian tech centres, including Fredericton, see opportunity. Toronto is buying up billboards around Silicon Valley. Ottawa leads google searches for US-based tech employees researching moving to Canada.

Nobody in Canada wants to undercut the US. That would be economically short-sighted of us. Rising tides in the US lifts our boats too. And vice versa: we buy 20% of US exports so when our economy tanks, we take a chunk out of theirs. 

So our new immigration programs shouldn’t be viewed as part of some nefarious plan to steal talent from US companies. We can play a more friendly role helping secure talent for US companies.

Fredericton has the business environment, the R&D supports, the talent pool, and the cost-environment to play a role here. And now we have a fast-track immigration program (unique to our region) that gives us a distinct advantage for US companies looking for talent acquisition options. 

Our local version of the Genius Visa—the Atlantic Immigration Pilot—gives companies the ability to quickly hire and patriate global talent. No labour market assessments required and guaranteed turnaround times in 10 weeks. Employees under this program get permanent residency, unlike many of the visa programs in the US with finite time limits. It’s the most flexible and business-friendly immigration program in Canada and we need to use it, promote it, and see it as the investment attraction advantage that it is.

The US tech community is right to be concerned about immigration contraction. These days, it’s not just about attracting the world’s best talent. Sometimes it’s about finding any  talent with the right set of skills. The global cybersecurity industry alone will be short 1.8 million workers by 2022. Immigration policies that dramatically reduce the number of entrants in the US will inevitably impact industries that rely on hard-to-find skills. Nothing suppresses economic growth like scarcity of talent.

Nobody understands the relationship between immigration and economic development like our universities (both American and Canadian). While we have some of the best training grounds in the world, many of our advanced degree students come from outside North America. To send them home without giving our local economies the chance to benefit from their accumulated knowledge, technical skills, and innovative ideas is not just a missed opportunity. It prevents us from fully leveraging our universities as engines of economic growth.

To understand the magnitude of the current risk to US innovation and productivity from curtailed immigration, over 57% of all US doctoral degrees in engineering were issued to international students in 2012-13. For computer science, the percentage drops to a still startling 53%.  In 2014, immigrant entrepreneurs founded 29% of all US startups, according to this report. The same report predicts that if current trends continue, foreign nationals will make up more than 50% of all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics PhD students in the US by 2020.

Fredericton has a great story to tell companies that want to leverage this talent:
•    We are the #1 most cost-competitive city in North America for business
•    Fredericton has a vibrant and growing tech/biotech sector, supported by some pretty amazing R&D organizations
•    We have some of the best digital infrastructure in North America, with some great living lab stuff happening
•    We have one of Canada’s most educated labour forces. And the longest average job tenure of all Canadian provinces.
•    We have some the lowest effective tax rates for R&D in the world, as well as the lowest corporate tax rates in the G7.
•    We have a stable political environment and a reassuringly similar legal system to that of the US.
•    We have significantly lower mandated labour costs due in large part to our universal healthcare system.

And now we have one of the most responsive and efficient immigration programs in the world for skilled labour, just as US companies enter an era where it may be more difficult than ever to attract and retain talent.

We can all play a part in telling Fredericton’s story. Some of our greatest investment attraction successes of the past 30 years started with simple conversation among business people. The Siemens-NB Power partnership is a great example

If you don’t know what Fredericton has to offer the world, find out: 

Let’s make sure every one of our business contacts knows that no matter what happens with US immigration policy,  Fredericton, New Brunswick Canada  can play a role in preserving and improving their global competitiveness.

Mara Mallory, LLB, is a strategic marketing consultant with Fredericton-based Mallory Group Ltd. She works with clients to integrate marketing and sales efforts to grow the right audiences, develop effective inbound marketing, and boost sales. Connect with Mara on LinkedIn.