Biden won’t easily blunt Canada’s immigration edge: experts

Bureaucracy a bigger hurdle than U.S. competition for Ottawa’s immigration initiatives 

The Peace Arch border crossing sits mostly empty as the border remains closed amid the pandemic  | JeffGoulden/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Joe Biden’s U.S. immigration reform efforts will mark an about-face for a country known during the past four years for mass deportations, separations between children and parents at the border and administrative roadblocks stymieing the entry of skilled labour.

Amid a global talent shortage, Trump-era policies have benefited Canada as U.S. tech giants expand satellite offices north of the border and domestic firms convince foreign workers to forgo moving to the U.S.

But will Canada lose its edge under a Biden administration?

“The federal government remains aggressive in attracting skilled labour into Canada because of demographic shortages,” said Boughton Law Corp. immigration lawyer Bruce Harwood. “And if we’re going to compete with the United States I would think that you would have to see, at the very least, an increase in the H-1B [visa] ceiling for skilled labour into the United States.” The U.S. visas were the mainstay of the tech scene but faced tighter restrictions in the Trump era. 

“I haven’t seen a specific policy indicating that they are going to increase the intake of foreign nationals in that category.”

Harwood added that he doesn’t anticipate any significant downturns in the volume of aplications for skilled workers applying to enter Canada. 

Part of that is due to Ottawa’s efforts to bring in 1.2 million immigrants over the next three years to address labour shortages and boost the economy.

Harwood said Canada, Australia and New Zealand are poised to maintain their aggressive immigration systems to keep their economies humming.

“I don’t think we will have to compete with the Americans likely due to the significant political divisions that are down there,” he said.

Furthermore, Biden’s first order of business will not be focused on bringing in a flood of top global talent amid ongoing border restrictions brought on by the pandemic. 

Instead, legislation is underway to usher in a path to citizenship for 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status.

Harwood cautioned, though, that Canada might lose some of its advantages due to longer processing times brought on by the pandemic.

A bold, red warning on the website for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada states the federal government can no longer process applications normally or provide accurate processing times due to COVID-19.

“Given what has transpired since last March, the goals that the federal government has set in terms of processing would seem to be unrealistic because of the problems with processing delays,” Harwood said.

Chicago-based immigration services firm Envoy Global Inc. surveyed 215 U.S. employers between November 17 and December 12 and found several Trump-era policies to be particularly cumbersome for those seeking foreign workers.

More than half of respondents (51%) said they were less likely to sponsor a foreign national for a green card as a result of new rules introduced in February 2020 that were cited as more expensive and time-consuming.

And changes to the H-1B visa program in the U.S. resulted in 31% of employers having a harder time filling roles, while 27% reported passing increased costs on to clients and 19% turning down business as a result.

“Most U.S. employers are very excited, frankly,” said Envoy Global CEO and president Dick Burke, referring to the prospect of the Biden administration ushering in more progressive policies to attract top talent. “They expect more certainty, more predictability.”

Just before the pandemic, another Envoy Global survey found 51% of U.S. employers were considering Canada for expansion plans – up from 38% a year earlier.

Overall, 74% of respondents found Canada’s immigration policies more favourable to those of the U.S., jumping nine percentage points from a year earlier.

Burke does not anticipate Canada’s competitive edge growing blunt with Biden in office, but rather, that the U.S. will sharpen its policies in the near term.