America is losing talent to Canada because of outdated and restrictive U.S. immigration policies. That was the message delivered at a House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee hearing held on July 13, 2021.
“If we want to compete in an increasingly global and technology‑driven marketplace, we have to do what we’ve failed to do for the past 30 years, and that’s reform the immigration system so that it is responsive to the changing needs of our country,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chair of the House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee Committee. “The last major overhaul of our legal immigration system occurred in 1990. Meanwhile, other countries, like Canada, have made great strides in building flexibility and recruitment incentives into their systems to attract highly skilled immigrants, including those whom we cannot accommodate.”
Highly skilled foreign nationals, including international students, are choosing Canada over America because it is difficult to gain H-1B status or permanent residence in the United States, and easy to work in temporary status and acquire permanent residence in Canada.
I was invited to testify at the House hearing and noted between 2016 and 2018, the number of Indian students at Canadian universities rose from 76,075 to over 172,000, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education. The number of Indians who became permanent residents has more than doubled.
At the same time, at U.S. universities, Indian graduate students in engineering and computer science fell 25% between the 2016-17 and 2018-19 academic years.
Under the Global Skills Strategy, Canada approves many high-skill temporary visa applicants in two weeks. There is no numerical limit on high-skilled temporary visas in Canada. In contrast, in March 2021, employers filed approximately 308,000 H-1B registrations for FY 2022, while the law allowed USCIS to select only 85,000 petitions. That means over 72% of H-1B petitions were rejected.
Important context: In the U.S, H-1B temporary visas typically represent the only practical way for high-skilled foreign nationals, including international students, to work long-term in America.
In a 2020 Envoy Global survey, 48% of employers said a primary driver for placing workers in other countries is an inability to secure work authorization in the U.S., while 74% said Canada has better immigration policies for business.
In Canada, there is no per-country limit, and foreign nationals can often transition to permanent residence after working just a year in temporary status. Individuals complete applications online and hear back from the Canadian government in 6 to 8 months.
Canada’s program for graduating international students is more generous than in the United States, according to Peter Rekai, founder of the Toronto-based immigration law firm Rekai LLP. Students can work for a company and get permanent residence without a labor market test or prevailing or median wage requirements. Provinces allow many students at the graduate level to gain permanent residence without a job offer.
The contrast with the United States is stark: In the U.S., the annual limit of 140,000 employment-based green cards is considered too low and includes a 7% per-country limit that burdens immigrants from India, China and the Philippines.
According to the Congressional Research Service, it will take 195 years to clear the backlog of Indians in the employment-based second preference. And the U.S. backlog in employment-based categories will exceed 2 million people by 2030.
Congress can address these problems by increasing the annual limit for H-1B visas and employment-based green cards, exempting advanced degree holders from U.S. universities in science, technology and other fields from those limits, and eliminating the per-country limit. Congress can also develop a way for international students to gain or wait for permanent residence while avoiding the need for an H-1B visa.
America does not have a startup visa to facilitate job creation, even though such a visa could help create 1 million or more jobs over a decade. Canada has a startup visa, and uses it to provide another path to assimilate foreign-born talent.
“Canada is committed to increasing the number of immigrants to its country and is increasingly drawing talent from the U.S. through its Express Entry program and an economic immigration process that targets high-skilled workers,” testified Dr. Sudip Parikh, CEO and Executive Publisher of Science Journals at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“Time after time, I hear stories from TECNA members of key vacancies in companies that are impeding organizational function and growth,” testified Jennifer Grundy Young, CEO of the Technology Councils of North America (TECNA). “Most often, I hear about the inability to find software engineers.”
At the hearing, Rep. Lofgren pointed to a recent Axios article that found between 2015 and 2020, San Francisco’s tech talent pool increased 16%, while Toronto’s increased 31% and Toronto’s 43%. “Three of the cities with the biggest gains are in Canada,” according to Axios. “As we’ve reported, there was a steady ‘brain drain’ from the U.S. to Canada in the age of Trump as Canada took advantage of America’s hardline immigration policies.”
If one listened to some Republican members of the subcommittee and their witness at the hearing, one would think nobody in America can find a technology-related job because of foreign-born scientists and engineers.
However, except for doctors, lawyers and professional athletes, there may not be a more highly compensated group of U.S. citizens than native-born Americans with degrees in computer-related majors. “Median earnings of [native-born] college graduates with a computer-related major are 35% higher than other STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] majors and fully 83% higher than non-STEM majors,” according to an analysis of Census data by University of North Florida economics professor Madeline Zavodny for the National Foundation for American Policy.
The unemployment in math and computer occupations was 2.2% in June 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and there are more than 1 million job vacancy postings in computer occupations in America, about 20 times the number of new H-1B petitions approved in computer occupations for companies each year. Moreover, there won’t be any H-1B petitions for initial employment available for companies until March 2022 or later.
While some criticize the entry of employment-based immigrants and visa holders, it was immigrant Katalin Karikó who produced the underlying research breakthrough that made messenger RNA possible for vaccine use. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who played a crucial role in the speedy development of the Covid-19 vaccines, is an immigrant, as are many key research personnel at Pfizer (a company started by immigrants). And nearly all the key personnel who helped produced the lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines at Moderna, including co-founder and chair Noubar Afeyan and CEO Stéphane Bancel, were immigrants who came to or remained in America on an H-1B visa or an employment-based green card.
After Rep. Lofgren contrasted the differences between U.S. and Canadian immigration policies, she concluded by delivering a straightforward message: “We welcome talented individuals who want to become Americans like us.”