According to the CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate firm, the number of high paying tech jobs in Canada grew by more than half between 2012 and 2017.  82,100 jobs in software development, engineering and programming were created in this period in Toronto, Ontario more than in San Francisco or any other US city.

One major reason for this is Canada’s so-called Global Skills Strategy, a government programme to attract highly skilled foreign migrants. Since it was established in June 2017, it has seen impressive results.

“Canadian workers are among the most highly educated and skilled workers in the world, but for Canadian firms to stay competitive in the global marketplace, we must attract the best minds from other countries and sustain the prosperity of our businesses across Canada. That’s why the Government of Canada launched the Global Skills Strategy (GSS) one year ago, which gives Canadian employers fast and reliable access to top talent from around the world,” Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration Refugees and Citizenship, said in statement a year after the strategy was launched.

“Right now, we’re positioning ourselves to be much more welcoming,” Toby Lennox, Chief Executive of Toronto Global, a group that attracts investment to Canada’s largest city, told the FT.  

The Ministry of Immigration and Citizenship in Canada told Belong that the Global Skills Strategy was deliberately introduced to give Canadian businesses fast access to skilled labour.

“The objective of the GSS is simple: to allow companies to access the top talent they need by getting high-skilled workers into our country faster. Through fast and predictable access to talent, companies can scale up, create jobs, and grow Canada’s economy,” Nancy Caron, told Belong in emailed comments.

In marked contrast, south of the border in the US, President Trump has made it much more difficult for even skilled foreign labour to come and work in the States and has tightened up the H-1B work visa requirements. 

Unlike the single year given to foreign students in the US, in Canada all foreign students are automatically given work permits for up to 3 years after graduating.

In addition, the introduction of the Global Skills Strategy has made it much easier for Canadian companies to hire highly skilled foreign workers. All applications are processed in just two weeks and within just over a year since the programme was launched, of the 12,000 applicants, 95% have been accepted.

Canada’s approach is not just attracting people from overseas but is also helping coax back Canadians working in the US and convincing Americans to relocate. The rapidly growing Toronto tech industry is furthermore helping persuade many talented Canadians not to leave in the first place.

Although Canada is hardly a stranger to immigration – 51% of Toronto’s residents are immigrants who were born in another country – Canada’s new immigration policy has clearly been a major factor in creating a new base of highly skilled tech workers.

“I think where Canada has clearly benefitted on immigration is the change in our own policy. When I talk to CEOs, that speed of decision making is what made the difference.” Elissa Strome, director of Pan Canadian AI Strategy at CIFAR, a research institute in Toronto, told the FT.

A tech friendly immigration system is key to Canada’s economic growth as there are some skills that can’t be found in large numbers locally. “It is hard to find enough people with experience of large-scale consumer tech companies anywhere other than Silicon Valley, we have to import them,” Ray Reddy Chief Executive at Ritual, a food ordering app where office workers can order from local restaurants, told the FT.

The Canadian government and the wider mentality of the nation have been key in making sure this talent is available. Mary Louise Cohen, a US based lawyer who set up a company to connect skilled refugees with employers cited a meeting in 2017 on immigration in Ottawa, the Canadian capital.

She recalls that Canadians see themselves as being in a global talent competition that they intend to win. They recognise that they are a country of immigrants and that their strength is their diversity. Although the growth of tech industries in Canada in the last few years has been impressive, there is still a lack of domestic start ups valued at $1 billion or more. Investments by venture capitalists in Canada grew by 35% to $3.5 billion in 2018 but this is still a tiny fraction of the $99.5 billion invested by venture capitalists in the US last year.

Edward Cowley