Tech Sector and Immigration

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Last week we featured an article on the international student ‘brain drain’ and how it affects the future of the Canadian economy. The ‘brain drain’ referred to is a colloquialism for bright, talented minds leaving Canada to work or continue their education elsewhere because they’re unable to secure the points necessary to become permanent residents. Nearly 300,000 international students enroll in Canadian universities each year but instead of hundreds of thousands staying and working when they complete their degrees, the number is closer to tens of thousands.

Much of this has to do with changes to Canada’s immigration laws. Under current legislation, graduating international students are placed in a ‘pool’ of sorts with immigrant skilled workers and a predetermined number are invited to become permanent residents. The difficulty is that in most cases, while international students have the skills and the training to work in their chosen fields they don’t have the work experience and end up heading home. “The tech industry is in dire need for young, fresh talent to sustain itself,” says Rosanna Pancotto, immigration consultant and instructor at Ashton College. “There’s a ‘brain drain’ in the Canadian tech sector…[we] need to be recognized as industry leaders in technology. The only way to accomplish this is to remove the current barriers and pitfalls with the immigration process.”

Where this hurts Canada the most is in the tech sector. In a digital rather than skills based economy, it is the tech sector that rises in importance and in a strange quirk of fate, as the economy goes through regular downturns it is the tech sector that continues to grow. Silicon Valley North as Canada is known as is a highly desirable career destination for immigrant skilled workers and it should be for international students as well.

Except that it isn’t because the difficulties of recruiting educated talent right out of school are at times overwhelming. Skilled workers can enter the country through a fast tracked visa program but for students the road is much harder. “Streamlining applications means the difference between success and failure with tech companies, especially start-ups.” says Pancotto. “How can these companies compete without the right talent entering in the field to capitalize on innovation?”

With the modern job market being what it is, speed is of the essence when it comes to hiring and unfortunately, dealing with working visas and background checks is often such a painstaking process that hiring Canadian born applicants is the go-to response for tech firms. This leaves many viable candidates off the hiring table simply because of the time it takes to get paperwork in order. A student visa dictates a fixed and short number of hours that an individual is able to work each week and this typically isn’t useful to anyone but co-op students on practicum. But after graduation, turning a student visa into a temporary work permit can take months and even then there’s no guarantee of permanent residency. The federal government has promised to lessen the regulations for graduating students but until this happens tech firms are going to be left out in the cold in terms of recruiting talented international student graduates.


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