Douglas Todd: Amazon’s Vancouver ‘news’ lacks facts on jobs, migrants coming this way

More on the Canadian advantage in hiring talent and the mobility in the tech sector, written from a somewhat ambivalent perspective:

….The extent to which Canadian high-tech companies rely on foreign workers, international students and would-be migrants is explained in the book Trans-Pacific Mobilities: The Chinese and Canada (UBC Press), edited by the University of Calgary’s Lloyd Wong, with a key contribution by SFU’s Karl Froschauer.

Although Wong and Froschauer have never responded to my requests for interviews, they wrote in Trans-Pacific Mobilities that Metro Vancouver’s high-tech companies assertively look abroad for workers, mostly from Asia, and especially in India and China.

They do so, the sociologists write, because it means they can “spend a very small fraction of their salary budget on training and because B.C. universities produce relatively few graduates in the technology field … High-tech computer programming and computer systems analysis have been the two most common intended occupations of all skilled immigrants to Canada.”

Some international financial experts, however, are beginning to be more upfront about how one reason Canada’s high-tech sector is growing, particularly with satellite U.S. companies, is it is easier to get a visa to work in Canada than south of the border.

To put it simply, Canada’s open attitude to tech talent is the opposite of Trump’s, where the current national motto is, “Buy America. Hire America.”

Trump talks about further cracking down on the country’s coveted H-1B visas, which are used to place foreign workers in high-skilled U.S. jobs. As the BBC reports, U.S. politicians place a tight cap on H-1B visas because many do not want to see them used to replace skilled American workers with cheaper overseas counterparts.

Trudeau, on the other hand, is fast-tracking offshore high-tech workers and students. He’s brought in efforts like the Global Skills Strategy, which builds upon the 2015 “Express Entry” program; a free, online process that allows skilled workers to apply easily to immigrate.

Of the 500,000 international students in Canada in 2017, which was a 20 per cent jump from 2016, many are studying in technology fields.

One advantage in their coming to Canada is that — unlike in the U.S. where they are normally not allowed to stay in the country after they graduate — they can stay at least three years extra in Canada to work and go to the front of the queue for immigration. Another advantage of starting in Canadian high-tech is that foreign nationals who work for an American satellite company for one year can then get an inter-company transfer to the U.S.

Data is not available on how many Canadian-born or raised young people are getting jobs in the high-tech sectors in Vancouver, Toronto and across Canada. While employers routinely claim there is not enough local talent to hire, some B.C.-based business professors counter that there aren’t enough jobs for students graduating out of Canada’s high-tech programs.

In the midst of such trans-national confusion, shortage of facts and sometimes fantastical claims, there are pros and cons to the way the high-tech sector in Canada has become key to what Brock University researcher Zachary Spicer calls a globalized “brain churn.”

The world’s skilled workers, whether in Asia or North America, are not just flowing in one direction. They’re “churning,” shifting rapidly from country to country while chasing the most strategic jobs, with the restrictive U.S. generally being most sought-after, in large part because of its stronger salaries.

Raza Mirza, a high-tech worker in Vancouver who was recruited from Pakistan by a U.S. high-tech company, is not following the lead of many of his colleagues and moving to the U.S., even though he could make at least $40,000 Cdn more.

Separate from his own interests, he’s among many convinced the United States’ relatively protectionist approach to foreign labour, compared to Canada’s open policy, is definitely  boosting the high-tech sector in Canada.

“I believe the shortage of U.S. talent, and the U.S.’s unwillingness to let companies bring in more global talent, has been a huge factor in why U.S. technology companies are increasing their Canadian footprint.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Amazon’s Vancouver ‘news’ lacks facts on jobs, migrants coming this way

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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