‘This might be our moment’ to attract top talent to Vancouver in Trump's wake

Trump presidency, foreign skilled worker changes may spur influx

Canada Drives CEO Cody Green says his Vancouver-based startup received an influx of resumes from the U.S. following the election of Donald Trump | Photo: Rob Kruyt

Within days of this month’s U.S. presidential election, Cody Green’s Vancouver-based financial tech startup was facing “an influx of literally dozens of resumés coming in from the States.”

Green, the founder and co-CEO of Canada Drives, says it’s too early to say if the flood of American applicants is a knee-jerk reaction from some skilled workers unhappy with the ascendancy of president-elect Donald Trump.

“We’ll feel in the coming months what the actual net effect is going to be,” said Green, whose company specializes in securing financing for car owners.

But the potential for tech workers to make good on their word to move to Canada in the event of a Trump presidency could provide growth for start-ups struggling to recruit talent in Vancouver’s burgeoning tech sector.

Trump’s election comes a week after federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced a new “global skills strategy” targeting skilled foreign workers.

The program, set to go into effect in the spring, aims to offer short-term labour relief to international businesses or tech startups that need to recruit top talent from overseas.

Green said whether it’s engineering or programming jobs, it’s “always a challenge to fill them with local candidates.”

Most tech companies pursue foreign talent through the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process, whereby a job opening must be posted in Canada for a period of time to prove no Canadian worker has the skills needed for the position. The process can take five months to a year.

But the global skills strategy would establish a two-week standard to approve visas and 30-day work permits for skilled workers.

“This might be our moment,” said Walid Hejazi, an associate professor of international business at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

He said Morneau’s proposal, coupled with Trump’s move to the White House, would solve many of Canada’s challenges attracting high-skilled immigrants.

“Immigration has been an incredibly important source of growth in Canada and in the United States,” he said. “To the extent the U.S. closes off to that really important source of growth and prosperity, that could be an opening to Canada to take a different path. It would be to our benefit and their detriment economically.”

Jock Finlayson, chief policy officer at Business Council of BC, said it’s up to Canada to take advantage of what a Trump presidency could mean for immigration.

“Mr. Trump’s success in this campaign signals a hardening of American attitudes toward immigration generally,” Finlayson said.

“One could imagine that talented immigrants, who might otherwise be drawn to the United States because it is the biggest economy in the world, might be prepared to look at a place like Canada through a more favourable lens.”

While the prospect of a Trump presidency caused Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website to crash on U.S. election night, Vancouver-based Boughton Law immigration lawyer Bruce Harwood said it’s unlikely a flood of Americans will arrive in Vancouver any time soon.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to just pack up and move north,” he said.

Harwood, a former officer with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, said his ex-colleagues are already dealing with a backlog of applications.

“You may get expanded demand for immigration services to Canada, but unless the federal government is prepared to increase the budget of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and provide funding so that they can hire more staff to process applications, all I see is a bigger backlog into the system, and that will just frustrate all those who seek to work here,” he said.

Harwood added Morneau’s proposal isn’t “much of a solution at all” when it comes to labour relief.

“In the short term, if they were to provide a regulatory relief from the LMIA process for certain workers in the IT sector, that would certainly help,” he said. “That would eliminate the processing times for an LMIA and you’d go straight to the work permit process as opposed to the two-step process of LMIA and work permit.”