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Canada or the United States, which is the better option for Indian immigrants? If you’re hoping to launch your life and career in a new country, we’ve outlined the major differences between Canada and the United States for Indians who are considering immigrating to both countries. 

Both Canada and the United States have been popular destinations for Indian immigrants over the past several years. However, current trends show that Canada is accepting more and more Indian immigrants each year, while that number is declining in the United States.

In 2015, Indian citizens made up only 14 percent of all new permanent resident admissions to Canada, but that number has increased to 25 percent in 2019, totalling more than 85,000 new permanent residents. Meanwhile, latest data from the United States shows approximately 65,000 new Indian permanent residents admitted in 2016, with that number dropping below 60,000 by 2018.

If these trends continue in the coming years, we can expect Canada to accept even higher numbers of Indian newcomers, while the U.S. winds down migration from India. It is also worthwhile to remember that Canada has a population nearly ten times smaller than the U.S., making the per capita rate of Indian immigration much wider between the two countries.

On a per capita basis, Canada is clearly establishing itself as the more common destination for Indian immigrants.

The reason? It’s complicated.

Canada offers an excellent quality of life and a strong need for newcomers. Canadian citizens and permanent residents gain access to a universal healthcare system, free primary and secondary education, and a robust economy and jobs market. This all in a country ranked as one of the safest in the world, with a tiny population density, meaning tons of space and access to nature.

However, while a significant component of Canada’s popularity among Indian immigrants may be due to the Canadian lifestyle, another reason for Canada’s popularity among Indians is the ease of the Canadian immigration process, especially compared to U.S. immigration.

Why are so many more Indians choosing Canada over the United States?

Some Indians choose Canada over the United States as a matter of preference, some as a matter of convenience, but in many cases, it’s due to the differences between the Canadian and the U.S. immigration processes. Let’s start there.

How do you get a Canadian Green Card?

Want full details on how to apply through Express Entry as an Indian? Check out our detailed guide

You can get Canadian permanent resident status (the Canadian equivalent of a U.S. Green Card) through a number of different immigration programs, but the most popular by far for Indian immigrants is the Express Entry immigration system. This provides skilled workers with a pathway directly to permanent resident status. You don’t need a job offer, you don’t need a sponsor – in fact, you don’t ever need to have set foot in Canada before.

One of the challenges of Express Entry is its competitiveness. Express Entry uses a complex points-based ranking system called the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score to assess all interested candidates. All eligible candidates are assigned a score out of 1,200 points based on factors including age, language abilities in English and French, education, work experience, and connections to Canada. Only the candidates with the highest scores are invited to submit applications for permanent residence.

Young, highly educated candidates, with a high level of proficiency in either English or French have higher chances of success under Express Entry. Although candidates outside of that dream profile can be successful, it often requires a score boost from another area, like a provincial nomination, a Canadian job offer, or previous Canadian work experience.

Express Entry is fast

Canada’s Express Entry system is fast. After submitting a final application for permanent residence, the vast majority of applications are processed in less than six months.

Express Entry allows you to bring your family

With Express Entry, you can include your spouse or common-law partner and your dependent children. If you are approved for permanent residence then your accompanying family members also become permanent residents.

Canadian permanent residence is a bridge to citizenship 

New permanent residents can become eligible for Canadian citizenship – including the right to apply for a Canadian passport, one of the most valuable passports in the world – just three years after obtaining permanent status (and sooner if they spent time studying or working in Canada previously). This is far quicker than in the U.S., where the path to citizenship is often measured in decades rather than years. Indians should note that the Constitution of India prevents Indian citizens from holding dual citizenship, but as of 2005 a particular status called Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) allows foreign citizens of Indian origin to live and work in India indefinitely. With this in mind, Canadian citizenship may be attractive to some Indian immigrants to Canada.

Indian father with two boys
Express Entry allows you to immigrate with your spouse or common-law partner, and your dependent children.

So, how does Express Entry compare to the U.S. immigration system?

Express Entry has a few distinct advantages over the U.S. immigration system, especially for Indians. Now that you understand the basics of Express Entry, let’s compare a few of the elements of the U.S. system.

U.S. immigration doesn’t have a direct-to-permanent-residence immigration system for workers.

While Express Entry allows skilled workers to apply directly for permanent resident status, the United States system is designed so that foreign workers initially arrive on temporary work visas. After gaining work experience and employer sponsorship, a foreign worker in the United States may eventually transition to permanent resident status, but this process takes years. Any issue with an employer or a visa renewal can cause huge issues for your U.S. Green Card.

Express Entry provides a much more efficient and stable process for skilled workers looking to become permanent residents.

U.S. immigration usually requires a job offer*. 

If you’re hoping to immigrate to the U.S. as a foreign worker, you almost definitely require a job offer in order to succeed.

Traditionally, most Indian workers in the U.S. begin their journey by obtaining an H-1B visa. This is a work visa allowing you to work for a specific employer in the U.S. If you decide to stay permanently and pursue a Green Card, you will likely need your employer to sponsor your Green Card application. The majority of your immigration journey in the United States is tied directly to your employer.

Meanwhile, as outlined above, the Canadian Express Entry system does not require a job offer. You can apply for your Canadian permanent residence without ever working for an employer in Canada. That being said, obtaining a job offer in Canada and gaining Canadian work experience can be extremely beneficial in increasing your competitiveness under the Express Entry system.

*Please note: The U.S. does allow certain workers to apply for work visas without a job offer. For example, this can be done through the O-Visa program, but only for individuals who can demonstrate “extraordinary ability or achievement” in the arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics.

The U.S. H-1B visa program is experiencing heightened refusals and restrictions.

Since the Trump Administration took office in 2017, applicants to the H-1B visa program have faced increasing challenges. In 2015, the refusal rate for H-1B visa applications was only 6 percent. This refusal rate has increased annually every year since 2015, resulting in 24 percent of H-1B visa applications being denied in 2019.

The increase in H-1B visa refusals has impacted not only those who applied for their first H-1B visa, but also to H-1B holders who applied to extend their status in the United States. While the refusal rate for extensions of status have been lower than those of first-time applicants, that rate has also risen over the past four years. In 2015, the refusal rate for H-1B visa extensions was 3 percent, but this has increased to 12 percent over the past year.

The unstable approval rate for H-1B visas and the challenges of foreign worker retention in the U.S. has led some American companies to hire foreign workers through satellite companies in Canada, simply due to Canada’s less restrictive, more reliable immigration policies. For example, Mobsquad, a Canadian tech company, enables foreign workers from the U.S. to work instead from the Mobsquad office in Canada, where these workers are then contracted back to their original U.S. employer. This is just one of many examples highlighting the stark differences between current U.S. and Canadian immigration policies.

It can be challenging to bring family members through U.S. foreign worker immigration.

If you want to bring your spouse or partner to the U.S. while you are working on your H-1B visa, you may experience some challenges, especially if your spouse or partner wants the ability to work while they’re in the U.S.

The U.S. visa category H-4 enables the spouses of certain H-1B visa holders to obtain work authorization while they are employed in the U.S. However, the Trump Administration has been threatening to dismantle this visa category. There is no guarantee that the potential for spousal employment will continue beyond the short term.

Canada’s Express Entry immigration system has a distinct advantage over the U.S. when it comes to family, as Express Entry allows applicants to include accompanying family members. If an Express Entry application is approved, all accompanying family members receive Canadian permanent resident status, and with it, the right to work for any employer in Canada.

Other immigration options for Indians considering Canada and the U.S.

Canada’s Express Entry system and the U.S. H-1B visa program may be among the most popular options for Indian immigrants, but they are not the only immigration options available for Canada and the U.S. For example, both countries are hugely popular destinations for international students, including those from India. After completing international studies, Indian international students in both Canada and the U.S. have options to extend their stay as workers.

As mentioned above, the U.S. offers the O-Visa program for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in the arts, sciences, business, education, or athletics. Canada offers a similar work permit program for individuals with exceptional skills through the Global Talent Stream (GTS), though this is more heavily focused on specialized skills in certain professions.

The GTS is one of Canada’s many work permit options. Other Canadian work permit options for Indians include job offer-based work permits and the popular Intra-Company Transfer program, which enables multinational corporations with offices in Canada to transfer employees to their Canadian location.

Additionally, most of Canada’s provinces and territories manage their own mini-immigration programs called Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs). For more information check out our guide on the best PNP streams for Indians looking to immigrate to Canada.

Finally, both Canada and the United states have robust family sponsorship immigration programs. Citizens and permanent residents in both Canada and the United States can sponsor their spouse, common-law partner, and dependent children for Green Cards.

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