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Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney says he wants to exploit a “dysfunctional” American immigration system to lure high-tech workers to Canada when they can’t get permanent residency in the United States.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney says he wants to exploit a "dysfunctional" American immigration system to lure high-tech workers to Canada when they can't get permanent residency in the United States.

The minister said Wednesday the U.S. failure to reform its immigration system is keeping an opportunity open for Canada and there are plans to make it easier for prospects to come to Canada with program changes this January. Mr. Kenney did not provide details of the specific changes.

"We're seeking very deliberately to benefit from the dysfunctional American immigration system. I make no bones about it," Mr. Kenney told reporters on Wednesday after a news conference, where he announced $3.3-million in funding to help B.C. recognize the foreign credentials of new Canadians.

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Mr. Kenney said the American tech sector is bringing in tens of thousands of brilliant young prospects from around the world who go to the top schools in the country, graduate and are employed on short-term visas by major IT companies.

"Very frequently, after a year or two, these super-smart young foreign nationals, because of their intelligence and entrepreneurial drive, have startup concepts that they want to launch. The problem they face is they can't get green cards or permanent residency in the United States," he said.

"If you've got a degree in something like computer science from Stanford or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Americans won't give you a green card, you're welcome to Canada. We have a functioning immigration system that will become even faster-moving under express entry in January of next year."

Mr. Kenney said he has been encouraging those individuals to "pivot to Canada," through a dedicated program for startup entrepreneurs who can attract Canadian investment.

"We have started receiving some permanent residents through this program. We expect it to pick up in momentum."

Canada stands to gain prospective citizens who have honed their English-language skills, earned degrees from top-notch schools and honed their entrepreneurial skills, he said. "They are set for success. If the United States doesn't want to open the door for permanent residency for them, that door will be opened in Canada."

The minister noted that the IT sector in the United States has been lobbying to expand the number of visas for such workers and facilitate the number of green cards, but the immigration laws aren't getting through Congress.

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The minister said he was not worried about prospects coming to Canada as a way station for a return to the United States. "We respect people's mobility rights. They're not prisoners to Canada if they get permanent residency here."

But they have to make a commitment to Canada to benefit from the program, maintaining permanent residency here for three out of every five years to maintain that status and four out of six years to become citizens.

Mr. Kenney noted that Canada previously posted a billboard in Silicon Valley, promoting low taxes and visas for those having trouble with their U.S. visas.

Mr. Kenney's office was asked about numbers on the program, but a spokesperson said they were not available.

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