Motivated by more restrictive immigration policies under the Trump administration and the difficulty of obtaining green cards in the United States, the number of Indians obtaining permanent residence in Canada has more than doubled since 2016. Given current trends, Indian scientists and engineers will likely continue to see Canada as an attractive alternative location to make their careers and raise a family.
The number of Indians who became permanent residents in Canada increased from 39,340 in 2016 to 80,685 in 2019, through the first 11 months of 2019, an increase of more than 105%, according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data. Full-year Canadian statistics will likely show more than 85,000 Indian immigrants in 2019.
What are the reasons for this stunning increase in immigration from India to Canada? “Canada is benefitting from a diversion of young Indian tech workers from U.S. destinations, largely because of the challenges of obtaining and renewing H-1B visas and finding a reliable route to U.S. permanent residence,” said Peter Rekai, founder of the Toronto-based immigration law firm Rekai LLP, in an interview.
In the United States, the denial rate for H-1B petitions for continuing employment (primarily for existing employees) is 12% under the Trump administration, four times higher than the denial rate of 3% in FY 2015. For new employees on H-1B petitions the denial rate was 24% through the first three quarters of FY 2019, compared to 6% in FY 2015.
Due to the low number of employment-based immigrant visas (green cards) and the per-country limit, an Indian-born professional might need to wait decades before obtaining permanent residence in the United States.
Many U.S. and Indian technology companies have opened affiliate offices in Canada. The Canadian government, for its part, has streamlined its work permit process for tech workers and provides a clear path to permanent residence, notes Rekai.
“Indian nationals are ideally suited to Canada’s points-based selection system, which places a high value on youth, post-secondary education, and high-skilled foreign and (especially Canadian) work experience,” said Rekai. High-level English language skills are required to qualify for permanent residence under Canada’s Express Entry points system, which may be one reason the number of immigrants from China has remained relatively flat in the past few years. Chinese nationals who do not garner enough points through Express Entry could still gain permanent residence under programs run by Canadian provinces, which focus on skills needed by local employers and place less importance on language ability.
Another factor in the rise of Indian immigrants in Canada is the ability of Canadian universities to attract international students at record levels. In 2017, the number of international students in Canada increased by 20%. In 2018, international student enrollment at Canadian universities rose again, by 16%.
At the same time, at U.S. universities new enrollment of international students declined by more than 10% between the 2015-16 and 2018-2019 academic years.
Canada makes it easy for an international student to transition to work after graduation, which creates a path to permanent residence. However, the Trump administration has announced plans to restrict or eliminate Optional Practical Training (OPT), including in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Optional Practical Training allows international students to work after graduation in the U.S. for 12 months or an additional 24 months in a STEM-related job. The administration has also put forward other restrictions that would make an education in America less appealing to international students. (See here.)
The rise in Indian students coming to Canadian universities is likely a significant reason that Indian immigration has surged. The number of Indian international students studying at Canadian universities rose from 76,075 in 2016 to 172,625 in 2018, an increase of 127%, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education. In contrast, at U.S. universities, the number of international students from India enrolled in graduate-level programs in computer science and engineering fell by 21% (18,590 fewer graduate students) from 2016 to 2017.
Canada plans to increase legal immigration. “To further ease the challenges of a shrinking labor force and an aging population, our new multi-year immigration levels plan sets out the highest levels of permanent residents that Canada will welcome in recent history,” declared Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen in 2018. By 2021, Canada is expected to increase legal immigration to 350,000 a year, a rise of 63,490, or 22%, from the 2017 level of 286,510.
In the United States, legal immigration fell by 7% between 2016 and 2018, one of the first concrete signs of the impact of the Trump presidency on legal immigration. Due to Trump administration policies, and without any changes in the law by Congress, the annual number of new legal immigrants to the U.S. could decline by as much as 30%, or up to 350,000 a year, from the 2016 U.S. immigration level of 1,183,5050, according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis.
The implementation of the administration’s public charge rule, the travel ban and diminished refugee admissions are the key factors that will more precisely determine the new, lower level. Reducing legal immigration and thereby slowing labor force growth means lower long-term economic growth may become Donald Trump’s most lasting legacy.
The points system in Canada mostly works because it is flexible and responds to employer needs, and that part of the system is likely impossible to implement in the United States because of America’s different governmental structures. Peter Rekai has noted that it could be dangerous to import the Canadian points system wholesale into the United States. “Putting broad immigration decision-making into the hands of a strong executive can lead to ‘be careful what you wish for’ outcomes,” according to Rekai. “An ideologue in an empowered U.S. executive branch (e.g., White House aide Stephen Miller) could significantly change the focus of U.S. immigration through executive order or action.”
More important to attracting employers and skilled workers to Canada is how much easier it is in Toronto and other Canadian cities to employ professionals comparable to H-1B visa holders. Under the Canadian government’s Global Skills Strategy, the country’s adjudicators approve many applications for high-skilled workers within two weeks and, in contrast to the U.S., the number of applications denied is low.
New restrictions on H-1B visas and international students, combined with long waits for employment-based green cards, make America a less attractive destination than Canada for many high-skilled immigrants and their employers. Based on current trends, the situation is likely to grow worse for U.S. companies seeking to attract talent to America.
(Adapted from Forbes Magazine)