Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Employees work at the Shopify office in Toronto on February 12, 2020. Chris Donovan/The Globe and Mail

Chris Donovan/The Globe and Mail

Canadian tech executives are urging skilled workers to seek jobs here after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday temporarily blocking some employment-related visas, including Silicon Valley’s preferred visa for hiring high-skilled immigrants.

The H-1B visa allows skilled workers with “highly specialized knowledge,” such as engineers and scientists, to work in the United States for three years, with the possibility of a three-year extension. It is a key factor in the success of the U.S. tech sector, particularly in Silicon Valley, where Big Tech giants compete for the world’s best talent.

While the heads of Apple Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Tesla Inc. all criticized Mr. Trump’s order, their Canadian counterparts pointed out how happy they’d be to hire skilled workers that the U.S. would turn away. Canada has long upheld its openness to immigration as a key strength. For the domestic tech sector, the moment could create a competitive advantage in the economic recovery from COVID-19.

Story continues below advertisement

“Innovation has always been happening, but right now it’s happening at an exponential pace” because of the pandemic, said Eva Lau, the founding partner of Two Small Fish Ventures and a long-time tech-sector leader in Toronto, including at Wattpad Corp. Mr. Trump’s move, she continued, “is putting us in the best position to capture the next generation of tech giants here in Canada.”

Mr. Trump said on Monday that the work-visa immigration restriction would last through the end of 2020. It is the latest of his moves to restrict immigration during the novel coronavirus crisis, claiming it makes more jobs available for U.S. citizens. The White House also said the government is reforming the H-1B program to accept only the “highest-skilled workers.”

Canadian tech companies have been trying to entice highly skilled foreign workers since Mr. Trump was sworn in as President in 2017 and quickly began to restrict the ability of non-U.S. citizens to work in the U.S.

Canada’s federal government launched its own accelerated temporary foreign worker program for skilled workers early in Mr. Trump’s term.

Calgary-based MobSquad sets up “virtual subsidiaries” for U.S. companies, helping skilled workers facing visa issues to work from Canada. “The gap between how Canada thinks about immigration and how the U.S. thinks about immigration is why our business exists – and this has just further widened that gap,” chief executive Irfhan Rawji said. “If we can use this as an opportunity to have Canada be a talent magnet for the best labour in the world, I think we come shooting out of this pandemic much stronger.”

The Council of Canadian Innovators, a lobbying group that represents more than 100 scale-up tech companies, estimates that the sector had 220,000 job vacancies before the pandemic began. That’s more than domestic workers could fill and includes positions that would benefit from experience gained elsewhere. The group is building a centralized website for interested workers to post details about their experience and availability, which CCI will share with Canadian tech companies.

“It’s scaling-up talent that we really need here in Canada,” the group’s executive director, Ben Bergen, said in an interview. “We’ve got a lot of great firms, but not all of them with a tremendous amount of experience in terms of going from $10-million [in revenue] to $100-million, to a billion. There are folks that are potentially able to come here that will have that skill set to help firms here scale and become global giants.”

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Trump’s move is bittersweet for Canadians such as Karim Gillani, who transferred to San Francisco with BlackBerry earlier in his career on a visa in one of the classifications that has been suspended. Now a general partner with Luge Capital in Toronto, Mr. Gillani said the visa helped him get the experience to move to his current role.

“It’s going to take us some time to fight our way back to a prosperous, healthy, growing economy,” Mr. Gillani said. “And if we can bring in high-quality, strong talent to help with that effort, it’s going to certainly be beneficial for us as a country.”

Toronto immigration lawyer Josh Schachnow helps domestic tech companies recruit globally, and recently co-founded a startup called Visto that centralizes application details and provides advice for skilled workers hoping to come to Canada.

Mr. Schachnow said he felt a shift in demand about a year and a half ago as Americans began to fear Mr. Trump would further restrict immigration – particularly from U.S. companies considering opening offices in Canada. “Your company, and your employees, will likely sleep much better at night in Canada, with respect to immigration,” he said.

The informal campaign to recruit skilled workers to Canada emerged on Twitter. The social-media giant’s chairman, Canadian Patrick Pichette, wrote on Monday evening that H-1B visa seekers should “just look to the North” and be welcomed. Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify Inc., wrote on Tuesday morning that “Canada is awesome. Give it a try.”

The way the pandemic is reshaping the economy, however, means that moving for work may no longer be necessary. TechTO co-founder Alex Norman thinks Mr. Trump’s visa restrictions may benefit Canada in the short term, but not the long term. “If you believe more companies are working from home in remotely distributed teams, there’s less reason for someone to move,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

A decline in U.S. influence might also hurt Canada’s sector, too. “If the U.S. becomes more isolated and doesn’t build as many world-beating companies, it will affect us eventually,” Mr. Norman said.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies