Hundreds of tech workers pack the auditorium for a networking event recently in Toronto. glide host that evening around the room on a hoverboard, as part of the host and technology bro.
“Anyone here who are new to Canada?” asks Jason Goldlist, co-founder of TechToronto, an organization that helps newcomers navigate the rapidly evolving technology ecosystem of the city.
Dozens of hands shot in the air – one belonging to Alok Chitnis, who moved to Canada last year. Chitnis from India. He went to graduate school in the US and find a job in Colorado. But last May, he moved to Canada to launch his own startup.
“It’s the excitement. It is very welcoming immigrants,” said Chitnis. “There are a lot of services by the government to help entrepreneurs, especially newcomers. So the whole ecosystem is quite friendly than the US”
If there is a war for talent global technology, now Canada wins – and the US may lose its edge. Toronto saw the biggest growth in technology jobs of any city in North America over the last five years, surpassing San Francisco, New York, and Seattle. Vancouver also made five.
The booming technology industry in Canada. And one of the biggest reasons is the US immigration policy. Trump Government has made it more difficult for high-skilled workers to get visas. It also has blocked the entrepreneurs of some predominantly Muslim countries at all under a travel ban, which it moves to expand to more countries.
Canada, meanwhile, has made it easier for technology workers to immigrate there. A new streamlined visa in Canada has brought more than 40,000 technology workers from around the world in the last two years alone.
“While Americans have gone, ‘Let’s make it difficult to get employees here on a visa,’ ‘Canada, go on the contrary, and it is beneficial to Canada,” said Alex Norman, co-founder of TechToronto other. “You have a fast-growing ecosystem here that it has received an injection of steroids.”
Under the rule of Trump, high-skilled workers increasingly rejected at a higher level. In 2015, 92% of the H-1B visa application has been approved recently. But in the past two years, the level of approvals slumped to just 75%.
Immigration authorities say they are trying to make sure that the company follows the rules. Employers are required to show that hiring a foreign worker will not hurt the Americans.
“You know, I have high regard – as well as the president – to protect US workers,” said Ken Cuccinelli, who was the acting head of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in an interview last year.
Cuccinelli asked about the need to crack down on fraud and abuse. “H-1B program has been controversial in this regard,” he said. “And it is about.”
Meanwhile, US technology companies complain that they can not find enough qualified candidates to fill all their open jobs.
More than a dozen hiring managers from technology startups recently squeezed into a private dining room at Del Posto, high-end restaurants of New York City. One of them is Susan Riskin, chief human resources in Bitly, which is famous for making a shorter Web address.
“We doubled the size of our technology team last year,” said Riskin. “And we feel like we’ve run out of New York and Denver. And now it’s like we’re trying to figure out where to go next, what we need to do.”
All of the hiring manager at a table facing the same problem. They came to New York strip steak and Italian wines – but also to hear the business pitch from Irfhan Rawji, the founder of a Canadian company called MobSquad.
“If you prefer to fill the job rather than go without, call us,” said Rawji. “We will open a virtual company for your child in Canada. You get access to the world.”
Rawji field is, in short, is this: Say your company wants to hire international technology workers, but the workers rejected a visa application or the application process drag on for months.
“The next best solution to keep them here in the US, if you can not do it, is to put them in Canada,” said Rawji. “The flight was a half-hour to two hours. This is the same business culture. And we try to match or beat the total cost for you here.”
US technology companies have long relied on the flow of engineers and software developers from China, India and elsewhere. The process to obtain H-1B visas are often expensive and slow, said Meagan Soszynski, head of human resources for an application called Yieldmo ads. But at least it was predictable.
“You follow a certain process, you pay a premium, but you’re pretty much always get the results you want,” said Soszynski.
He says it does not happen again.
“In the past year, I would say every one of my H-1B cases has met with some sort of delay,” said Soszynski. “So the immigration changes would be felt by us on the front lines.”
The US remains a popular destination for international workers. The number of applicants for H-1B visa stills exceeds the annual cap of 85,000. But in recent years, fewer are applying.
“The biggest thing that would hurt US competitiveness is the overall rhetoric or tone” on immigration, said William Kerr, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of The Gift Global Talent, who also serves on the board of MobSquad.
“If you think about migration, people who make the choice to come and invest in their lives, either to school or to work, and they want to have a long-term opportunity,” said Kerr. “And the uncertainty and hostility really dampen the enthusiasm of it.”
President Trump says he understands the problem.
“We have to let the smart people stay in our country,” Trump said in an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News this month.
“We do not have enough of them. And we have to be competitive with the rest of the world as well,” said Trump.
But global technology workers say government policies make the US less attractive Trump.
Ozge Yoluk started a new job in Toronto this month. He was born in Turkey and studied in Europe. Yoluk worked as a postdoctoral researcher in computational biology at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. He said the court was “like playing video games” – except in this game, the characters are proteins and experimental drugs.
He joined the company, ProteinQure, using technology to devise new treatments. US pharmaceutical companies are doing the same job. But Yoluk said he did not even bother to apply for jobs.
“Getting a US visa is not easy,” said Yoluk. “And it’s really expensive, not only for companies but also for themselves.”
Yoluk says a higher rejection rate for US work visa has made companies more reluctant to sponsor foreign workers – and foreign workers more reluctant to go through the process.
“I said I was not going to waste my time applying for positions in the United States,” said Yoluk. “While in Canada, the process is easy.”
Yoluk said he got his Canadian visa approved within about two weeks. He did not even need a lawyer to navigate the process.
A few blocks away, I met Milad Zabihi in a coffee shop in downtown Toronto. Zabihi is the CEO of a startup called Peekage, which helps companies target customers. Zabihi immigrated to Canada from Iran. Several other companies are also co-founder of Iran.
“We are a group of friends from a university,” said Zabihi. “We were thinking like, you know, start something new.”
Zabihi said they wanted to find new business in the United States. But then, a travel ban Trump blocked most immigrants and visitors from Iran and some other Muslim-majority countries.
“Everyone’s like, OK, the USA is not an option,” said Zabihi. “Mainly we like, you know, what is happening now with the new government and Islam. So we basically think, like, what would be the next best choice.”
Now a large US technology company following the global technology workers north of the border.
Google, Microsoft, Intel, and Uber have either opened or announced plans for a new office in Canada.
“Tech city of Toronto is now the fastest growing in North America,” says Yung Wu, CEO of Mars Discovery District, Toronto tech hub in the home to 150 technology startups. It takes up most of a city block, with several buildings connected by a glass atrium soaring.
Wu said the Toronto tech industry has been growing for a while. But US immigration crackdown accelerated the growth.
“Look, every tweet Trump, we get another sort of injection, which is all good from my perspective,” said Wu. “Companies find it here because they can get access to foreign talent more quickly.”
Wu said that hiring the right people at the right time can be the difference between a successful company and one that is not.
Canada is betting on it.
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