This article was written by Arpan Sandhir, Schulich Master of Management Candidate 2018
It seems like President Trump is staying true to his promise he made before the US elections: to get more jobs back to the country. Yet ironically for him, he got which country wrong. It’s no secret that Google searches for “how to move to Canada” surged after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But there’s now new data which indicates that Canadian startups are seeing more interest from U.S. workers than ever before, as first reported by Axios — and many of them are attributing it to dissatisfaction with the U.S. political climate.
MaRS Discovery District, an innovation hub based in Toronto, surveyed startups in the city and asked if they’ve seen a surge in applications from U.S. workers since November. 62 percent of respondents said ‘yes’, and for many of the startups, the surge in U.S. applications has been unprecedented. In one case, Zoom.ai, an enterprise chat-bot startup, went from receiving nearly zero U.S. applications to 33 percent of its applications coming from the U.S. in February, 2017.
“I’ve been in tech for over 20 years in Canada and in Silicon Valley, too. I’ve never seen candidates from the U.S. apply for Canadian positions from places like Silicon Valley,” Roy Pereira, the CEO of Zoom.ai said. “That’s never happened.”
Naheed Kurji, the CEO of Canadian healthcare startup Cyclica, went so far as to say what he was seeing in Canada was “reverse brain drain”, telling that “Some of the most highly sought-after talent are asking, ‘What positions do you know of in Toronto?’ These are leaders in their industries in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.”
And it is not just the techies, but students too — the seed of later scientists: U.S. applications to one Toronto-based school have risen 80% since November.
Indeed, investment in the Canadian startup ecosystem has skyrocketed over the past 12 months, which analysts say is attributable–at least in part–to the Trump administration. Hubert Bolduc, president and CEO of economic development firm Montreal International, notes that $600 million worth of investments flowed into the Montreal area in 2017, compared with just $200 million in 2015. “Could I say it’s directly linked to Trump? Some explanation comes from that, for sure,” Bolduc says.
And with Facebook opening a new AI office in Montreal, and wide speculation that Amazon might choose Canada for its 2nd HQ, let’s look at the possible reasons why we’re seeing such a surge.
At the front is Trump and his style of leadership. Pereira said that his discussions with American applicants indicated that they were “concerned just because of the directionality that the country was taking,” often citing Trump’s travel ban as a reason job seekers were considering jobs in Canada. His January Executive Order temporarily barred people from seven Muslim-majority countries to enter the United States, a move heavily criticized by tech companies who continue to put out statements denouncing the President for what many perceive as racially divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.
Whether that will be enough to encourage uncertain engineers and computer scientists to stay put, when universal health care and cheaper post-secondary education beckon just over the northern border, remains to be seen.
Further, countries like France, Canada, and China have since openly sought to poach American STEM workers. After making a personal appeal to US researchers, Emmanuel Macron’s government has started the “Make Our Planet Great Again” grant – a nod to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan – to counter Trump on the climate change front. Thirteen of the 18 winners are US-based researchers who were awarded millions of euros to relocate to France for the remainder of Donald Trump’s presidential term. One of the winners, Camille Parmesan, of the University of Texas at Austin said Macron’s appeal “gave me such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have a head of state saying I value what you do.”
Canada also launched a new ‘Global Skills Strategy’ VISA program to help siphon Silicon Valley’s brain drain. The program makes it easier for companies to recruit highly-skilled foreign workers; and allows employees to be approved for a VISA in just two weeks.
And then there are many like Rangnekar who simply want freedom. With wait for US Green cards stretching more than a decade, many are looking for options to settle down with family. “A lot of people coming
[to North America] have Asian parents who are getting older, and they would like to spend more time with family, and there is no framework in which you can actually make that happen,” Rangnekar said. “They could come over for a few months on a visa, but it is far and parents don’t want to necessarily fly 13 hours one way every few months to visit their grandkids.”
And, with US government once again taking aim at the H-1B, the tech industry’s most-coveted VISA system, which allows companies to hire specialized foreign labor for three-years, and starting the year 2018 with the news of cutting the extension for these visas as individuals await the processing of their Green Card [US permanent residency] application; it seems the US really doesn’t care for its overseas “gold collar” workers–meaning specialized engineers, project managers, and supply chain operators – which form an overwhelming majority of the workforce. Still, a lot would be clear, once we have the data and statistics: ‘Time will ultimately tell.’