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As the H1-B visa program in the United States faces an uncertain future, the prospects look grim for tens of thousands of foreign workers who have pinned their hopes on the program to build their careers. For many workers in the USA, particularly H1-B workers, moving from the USA to Canada has become an attractive option.
Canada operates a progressive immigration system that welcomes newcomers through a range of temporary work permit and permanent residence programs. Because H1-B workers are typically young and educated, with skilled work experience and strong English skills, they are primed for success in Canada’s immigration system.
This guide aims to help current and potential H1-B holders, as well as other foreign workers in the US, plot a path to Canada. Prefer learning by video? Check out our video webinar with regulated Canadian immigration consultant, Jenny Perez:
H1-B: the background
For years, the H1-B has been instrumental in the careers of young professionals, particularly workers from India. The H1-B has also helped companies — notably in Silicon Valley and in the medical sector — hire talent that may be in short supply locally. Many H1-B holders have gone on to settle in the USA by obtaining a Green Card, often with the support of the same employer who originally petitioned for that worker to come to the USA on a H1-B visa.
All that began to change with the current US administration, which came into office in early 2017. Within weeks, a fast-track H1-B processing option was removed and a new “Buy American, Hire American” executive order directed that H-1B visas would be awarded only to the most skilled or highest-paid beneficiaries. Data from later in 2017 then showed that the number of denials and requests for evidence had increased significantly, a trend that continued into 2018. Only administration officials know what they future of the H1-B program may be (or maybe they don’t), but whatever happens, foreign workers in the USA have every right to feel less secure than they have in the past.
In addition to meddling with the H1-B visa, the US administration has threatened the very existence of some work permit options, such as NAFTA, and made restrictive changes to others, such as the J1.
You are what Canada wants
Canada’s immigration system is set up to support the arrival and integration of younger, highly-educated people with strong English skills and work experience in a managerial, professional or technical occupations. As a H1-B worker, you probably tick most, if not all, of these boxes, and moving from the USA to Canada may be relatively straightforward. If you happen also to speak French, or have a sibling living in Canada, or can land a job in Canada before arrival (a feat you have accomplished before in the US, don’t forget), your prospects are even better.
Canada wants workers who can help to alleviate labour shortages across the country, particular in the IT/tech sector. As more Canadians retire and birthrates stagnate, Canada is looking to international talent to come and be a part of something special here. The attitude to immigrants from the government, employers and communities is broadly welcoming.
Moreover, you can wave goodbye to slow, indeterminate immigration processing. Canada’s flagship immigration system, known as Express Entry, provides exactly that — a way to be living and working in Canada as a permanent resident within a few months of beginning the process. And if you want to move to Canada from the USA even sooner, there may be a way to do that; the Global Talent Stream provides a two-week processing standard for eligible applicants coming to Canada on a work permit, and other temporary work permit options may also be available depending on your situation.
The U.S.-to-Canada Roadmap
Moving from the USA to Canada: Permanent residence
Canada aims to bring in 330,000 new permanent residents in 2019, with another 340,000 to come the year after. The majority will be chosen for their economic potential, and the main driver of economic immigration to Canada is Express Entry.
Express Entry allows Canada to prioritize the arrival of skilled workers via a merit-based points system, known as the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). Eligible candidates are placed in a pool, and the top-ranked candidates are invited to apply for permanent residence in draws from the Express Entry pool. Invited candidates then have 60 days to submit a complete application, whereupon the government aims to complete the process within six months.
H1-B workers in the USA have an incredible opportunity to immigrate to Canada through Express Entry, which is heavily weighted to favour young, educated and ambitious workers with proven potential to succeed in their field.
The number of US-based Express Entry candidates receiving an invitation to apply (ITA) for Canadian permanent resident shot up between 2016 and 2017, representing a five-fold increase in invitations issued to US residents. Remarkably, the vast majority of invited candidates moving from the USA to Canada are not American citizens. They are foreign workers who came to the US, but who now see their future in Canada.
Moving from the USA to Canada through a Provincial Nominee Program
Unlike the US immigration system, which is centralized entirely within the federal government, Canada has given its provinces a significant say in who can come to the country via the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs), thereby allowing Canadian provinces to set their own criteria for who they want to attract.
H1-B workers are in a particularly strong position, as some provinces have put out the call specifically for workers in the IT/tech and medical sectors — the very sectors responsible for attracting a significant portion of H1-B workers. British Columbia, home to the city of Vancouver, has its own Tech Pilot immigration program, while Ontario has previously amended its immigration criteria specifically to invite IT/tech workers, with thousands immigrating to cities across the province, including Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo. Some PNP categories don’t even require you to have a job offer.
Of course, IT workers are not the only ones who arrive under the PNPs. Tens of thousands of workers of all kinds have settled across Canada through the PNPs, with more to come. Under Canada’s multi-year immigration plan, around 184,000 new permanent residents will be admitted to Canada through the PNPs between 2018 and 2020.
Some PNP categories are established to help Express Entry candidates get the extra points they may need in order to be invited to apply for permanent residence, while other PNP categories function entirely outside Express Entry.
Business immigration to Canada
If you have the right entrepreneurial spirit, Canada is a great place to bring your ideas to life. Indeed, after moving from the USA to Canada you may find that the true land of opportunity in North American lies north of the border.
The Start-up Visa Program allows eligible international entrepreneurs to build out their business ideas in Canada with the help of dedicated business support groups. In addition, many of the aforementioned PNPs also tailor a portion of their immigration programs to attract entrepreneurs to their province.
If you are lucky enough to be in a marriage or common-law relationship with a Canadian, you can bypass the criteria laid out in the economic immigration programs and hitch a ride to Canada based on your relationship. However, there may be merit in pursuing Express Entry instead, assuming your are eligible to do so, if your goal is to get to Canada sooner.
Are you covered for life in Canada?
Moving from the USA to Canada: work permits
If you want to come to Canada sooner, obtaining a temporary work permit before potentially transitioning to permanent residence may be the way to go. Here are some popular options among workers in the USA who want to move to Canada.
If you work for a company that has a parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate in Canada, you may be able to secure a Canadian work permit through the Intra-Company Transfer program.
In addition to welcoming executives and senior managers as intra-company transferees, Canada also welcomes workers with advanced levels of expertise in the enterprise’s processes and procedures. For many workers, the Intra-Company Transfer program is a stepping stone on the way to permanent residence, particularly since a change in 2016 made it much easier for transferees to immigrate through Express Entry.
Global Talent Stream
This new initiative was launched in 2017 to help employers in Canada bring in eligible foreign workers quickly, with the government committing to a 10-day processing turnaround on applications.
Because the Global Talent Stream is particularly useful for workers in IT/tech occupations, which feature heavily on the Global Talent Stream Occupations List, it has piqued the interest of many workers thinking of moving from the USA to Canada. Workers with an eligible job offer in these occupations do not have to be referred to the Global Talent Stream by one of designated partners.
If other work permit options are not appropriate for your situation and you have a job offer in Canada, your employer-to-be may be able to assist your arrival in Canada by applying for and obtaining a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). The LMIA serves as proof that no Canadian citizen or permanent resident is ready, willing and able to fill a specific position, and so the employer is given the right to hire from abroad.
A word of warning: the LMIA process can be daunting, with the employer having to advertise the position widely and interview candidates. Even then, there is a no guarantee of success. That being said, chances of successfully obtaining a LMIA are greatly improved when the employer is diligent in following the process.
Open work permits
Canada issues open work permits in a few situations. In contrast to the closed (employer-specific) work permits outlined above, open work permits allow workers to work in any location in Canada and for any employer. Workers can even change jobs if they wish to do so.
If you are a citizen of any participating country with which Canada has a reciprocal youth mobility agreement, you may be eligible to live and work in Canada under the International Experience Canada (IEC) program. Even if you are not from a participating country but nonetheless fit within the age range (18 to 30 or 35, depending), you may be able to come through a Recognized Organisation.
Otherwise, if your spouse or common-law partner moves to Canada as a worker or student, you may be able to join him or her in Canada on an open work permit.
For many foreign workers in the US, obtaining citizenship is the ultimate goal. But achieving that goal is tricky and usually takes many, many years.
Things are a bit different in Canada. Speaking in 2017, Canada’s Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, stated: “One of the strongest pillars for successful integration into Canadian life is achieving Canadian citizenship and becoming part of the Canadian family. The Government encourages all immigrants to take the path towards citizenship and take advantage of everything that being a Canadian has to offer.”
The government has accordingly made it much easier for immigrants to become a Canadian citizen, dropping the residency required from four years to three and making it easier for immigrants to come and go from Canada before applying for citizenship. Canadian citizens enjoy the right to leave and re-enter the country at their leisure, work wherever and whenever and for any employer within Canada, vote and participate in political life (the Immigration Minister is himself an immigrant), and, of course, the right to one of the most powerful passports in the world.
So to you, the foreign worker worried about your future and thinking of moving from the USA to Canada, what are you waiting for? Canada represents opportunity and security, and Canada wants you.
Are you an American resident living in Canada or considering a move? You may have tax obligations in both countries! Learn all about Canadian tax considerations for Americans here. We also have guides on the U.S.-Canada Tax Treaty, and your obligations for reporting on foreign accounts.
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