British Columbia's burgeoning tech sector is set to get a big boost from entrepreneurs and their employees fleeing Silicon Valley to dodge U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration policies, industry insiders say.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he spent this weekend conducting more than a dozen client consultations with high-level engineers, managers and PhD or master's students working in the U.S. tech industry. These prospective clients now want to move to Canada after Mr. Trump's executive order last Friday blocking entry to citizens from seven Muslim countries, he said.
Mr. Kurland, who publishes the Lexbase newsletter on the Canadian immigration system, said his colleagues across Canada are all reporting similar interest.
"I've never seen anything like it from the United States. The last time I saw something like this was 1989 China – where you had top minds and top families seeking exit from the turmoil," he said. "There's this sense of fear and anxiety because you don't know who's next on [Mr. Trump's] list."
Further uncertainty was added Monday after several U.S. news agencies reported that the President had drafted another executive order targeting a special class of temporary work permits that technology companies have relied upon to recruit highly skilled engineers into the United States.
Any further restrictions to that program will likely lead more American tech firms – both large and small – to set up shop in Canada, Mr. Kurland said.
This weekend, some leaders in Canada's tech community called on the federal government to seize the moment by ensuring that it eases the path to Canada for workers with hard-to-find software development, engineering and other skills.
With 92,000 employees, B.C.'s tech sector employs more than its oil and gas, forestry and mining-related industries combined, but local tech firms and Premier Christy Clark have been lobbying Ottawa to streamline the immigration process so B.C. firms can more readily recruit top foreign talent. A two-hour flight from California and within the same time zone, B.C.'s South Coast is the most attractive international destination for many U.S. tech companies looking to find a secure satellite location for foreign employees, according to Scott Rafer, a consultant and a serial entrepreneur who has worked in Silicon Valley for 25 years.
Mr. Rafer co-founded a new firm, True North, this weekend that will help venture capitalists set up B.C. subsidiaries. For example, he said, this would allow a typical fund to retain 20 or so employees spread over a dozen startups that are affected by the President's latest move.
"We were planning on [launching] this in February, then Friday happened," he said in a telephone interview Monday, after meeting with a handful of interested investment firms that day.
"The reason to keep as many people in as few places as you can is there's an investor community that pays for all these small companies and they need to have a very small number of places to fly to, to deal with them.
"At an industrial software level, [B.C. has] the infrastructure and you have a place where a decent number of people can live very happily – and there's schools."
For $6,000, True North offers entrepreneurs a trip to Vancouver and a streamlined plan to get the necessary paperwork to set up a work and residency status in Canada, where a new wholly owned subsidiary will allow them to keep working in North America.
"It's not highly educated immigrants coming in and taking anything that's even remotely considered a Canadian job," Mr. Rafer said.
"It's high-income foreigners coming in and bringing their job with them."
The firm's co-founder Michael Tippett, a fixture of Vancouver's startup community, said he estimates as many as 10,000 people in Silicon Valley could be affected by Mr. Trump's immigration policies.
Google has said more than 100 of its staff have been affected by Friday's order and the tech giant has set up a crisis fund of $4-million to help workers dealing with the immigration ban.
Mr. Tippett, who ran Hootsuite's new products division for two years, said he is confident that an influx of entrepreneurs can benefit Vancouver and other parts of the province.
"Imagine having some of the brightest minds in technology living and working in our city, contributing and building companies," said Mr. Tippett, CEO of Vancouver-based Wantoo, an online software platform that collects and organizes customer feedback.
"And bringing investment dollars with them."