Main image of article Canada Continues to Benefit From U.S. H-1B Confusion

Canada continues to benefit from the confusion over United States immigration policy, according to a new report from NPR.

That NPR report cited a new study by CBRE, a real-estate services firm that regularly analyzes the job market in North America. According to CBRE’s data crunching, Toronto gained 80,100 tech jobs between 2013 and 2018, for a net brain gain of 57,634—placing it ahead of Silicon Valley and Seattle.

Another major city in Canada, Vancouver, came in fifth place on the chart, with a net brain gain of 11,160. Although the CBRE report attributes the tech-worker expansion across North America to a number of factors, including a robust educational pipeline in some of the largest cities, NPR also points to recent U.S. immigration policies for the influx of tech talent to Canada.

“While the States has gone, 'Let's make it difficult to get the employees here on a visa,' Canada's gone the exact opposite, and it's beneficial for Canada,” Alex Norman, the other co-founder of TechToronto, told the media outlet. “You had a fast-growing ecosystem here that's been getting a shot of steroids.”

This isn’t a new situation, of course. In mid-2019, Vox and other publications cited the migration of tech talent to Toronto and other locations in Canada. “Talented international professionals choose destinations other than the United States to avoid the uncertain working environment that has resulted directly from the agency’s processing delays and inconsistent adjudications,” Marketa Lindt, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told a U.S. House of Representatives hearing during July testimony (hat tip to Time for the quote).

A 2019 study from Envoy Global found that 65 percent of employers consider Canada’s immigration policy more favorable to their operations than U.S. policy, with 38 percent thinking of an expansion into Canada. Twenty-one percent said they already have an office in the country.

Over the past few years, the U.S. government has denied an increasing rate of H-1B applications. As part of this crackdown on H-1B visas, consulting and “business services” firms (which petition for thousands of H-1B workers, which they often subcontract to other firms) have ended up particularly targeted by this rise in denials:

However, that spike in denials might be ending. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2020 (which includes October-December 2019), the federal government approved a higher percentage of H-1B applications compared to the year-ago quarter (83.4 percent for Q1 fiscal 2020, versus 75.4 percent in Q1 fiscal 2019). Meanwhile, denials declined year-over-year, from 25,080 to 18,607. (If you want a full breakdown of the numbers, check out this handy PDF spreadsheet pumped out by USCIS.)

The big question is: Will that trend hold? And if it does, will tech companies regard that as “stability” and stop attempting to outsource tech work to Canada and other countries? Much will hinge on the policies that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) attempts to enact this year, and which legal battles it ends up winning; for example, the court fight over the government’s attempt to end the H-4 EAD, which allows spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S., is still very much underway.