Canada is Winning the Global Competition for Highly Skilled Workers

Written by Richard Hokenson 

An earlier report highlighted the fact that the U.S. was winning the global war for inventors. A World Bank research report (2016) revealed that the world’s highly skilled immigrants are increasingly living in just four countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. As of 2010, the U.S. was home to 11.4 million skilled immigrants, 41% of the OECD total. An interesting subset of highly skilled workers are inventors. The U.S. had received an enormous net surplus of inventors from abroad (see Chart 1). Although the data set on inventors has not been updated, more recent developments in highly skilled immigrants have now clearly tilted in Canada’s favor. The 82,100 tech jobs created in Toronto between 2012 and 2017 made it North America’s fastest growing tech center.

Toronto’s ability to attract foreign tech workers who would have previously headed for Silicon Valley reflects two changes. Since the elections of Justin Trudeau in 2015 and Donald Trump in 2016, attitudes in Canada and the U.S. have diverged markedly. The anti-immigration rhetoric in Washington is in stark contrast to Canada which has positioned itself to be more welcoming. Canada has been and remains receptive to immigration. But it is not just the change in attitudes that account for the shift. It also reflects changes in Canadian immigration policies that result in their attracting developers, computer analysts, university professors and software engineers. Aspects of their tech-friendly immigration approach are:

  • Canada grants foreign students work permits for up to three years after graduation. The irony is that the U.S. accepts foreigners to its universities, trains them and then lets them slip away. The US ends up losing talent.
  • In June 2017, Canada launched their Global Skills Strategy which is intended to make it easier for employers to bring in highly skilled foreigners. One of the goals is that work permits would be processed within two weeks. The speed of decision-making is a major positive compared to the U.S. visa process.

Canada’s immigration policy has also made it easier to attract Americans and coax back Canadians working in the U.S., alleviating prior concerns about a “brain drain”. The population growth rate has increased (see Chart 2). They are very aware that more than 200,000 people apply for the 85,000 H-1B visas offered by the U.S. To them, it means that the 115,000 plus persons who did not win the lottery are willing to come to North America.

The reality is that it is a global competition for talented workers. Canada recognises that it is a country of immigrants, that its strength is bringing in the best and brightest from around the world. We (Hokenson & Company) hope that there will be a similar recognition of the value of immigration in the U.S.

Kerr, Sari Pekkala, William Kerr, Caglar Ozden, Christopher Parsons, “Global Talent Flows”, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 7852, October 2016.



This update was researched and written by Richard Hokenson, as of 7 March 2019


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