Ottawa wants to draw more tech talent to Canada and is expanding the pathways workers in the sector have to enter the country.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser revealed the Tech Talent Strategy, which includes a new, dedicated pathway for permanent residents targeting employees and workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors.
“There’s no question … that we are in a global race for the same pool of talent with competitors around the entire world,” he said at the Collision tech conference in Toronto on Tuesday.
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“In my view, Canada’s winning that race and we might be winning it, but I think we can win it by an even larger margin.”
To win that race, he said the government is streamlining how it prioritizes applications to its startup visa program after allocating more spots for 2023.
It is also extending the length of work permits given out to entrepreneurs through the program.
Applicants can apply for three-year open work permits instead of one-year permits limited to the applicant’s own startup, and the permit will be available to each member of an entrepreneurial team instead of only the most essential, the government said in a press release.
“For those who are in the queue, we’ve got good news,” Fraser said.
“We’re also going to issue open work permits for three years for them and their families to be in Canada while they wait for their applications to be completed.”
Further increases to the number of spots in the startup visa program are planned for 2024 and 2025, and the government is prioritizing applications supported by venture capital, angel investor groups and business incubators.
As part of the changes Fraser announced, the government is creating an open work permit stream for H-1B visa holders in the U.S. to come work in Canada, and is developing an innovation stream under the International Mobility program to attract talent.
It has also fixed pandemic processing delays for its Global Skills Strategy program, Fraser said, promising to process work permits in just two weeks.
The final piece of the project is a digital nomad strategy allowing people working for foreign companies to stay in Canada for up to six months — and if they get a job offer while in Canada, the government will allow them to stay and work here, said Fraser.
The moves come as a wave of layoffs have hit the tech sector as investor exuberance in the sector faded when consumers returned to pre-pandemic habits, pushing valuations down.
Companies as big as Meta, Amazon, Google and Shopify have made cuts along with Wealthsimple, Clearco, Clutch and Ritual.
Layoffs aggregator Layoffs.fyi has counted 210,871 people laid off across the globe at 800 tech companies so far this year. It counted 164,709 cut from 1,058 last year.
Asked why the government was easing pathways to immigration as so many workers have lost their jobs, Fraser said it’s because Ottawa is taking a long-term approach.
“There’s no question in my mind, having more talented tech entrepreneurs and professionals in this country is going to be a very good thing half a generation from now,” he said at a press conference.
“And on the flip side of that coin, if we choose not to embrace the opportunity that this moment represents, we’re going to miss out on what could be a generational opportunity to pursue economic growth in a sector of strategic importance to Canada.”
He added that when he talks to people in the sector about immigration, the No. 1 obstacle they mention is finding the talent needed to help their businesses scale.
If Canada opens pathways for workers to come, Fraser said it can build a workforce with professionals, including those laid off, who can move laterally to fill jobs and encourage others to head to the country.
“We’re actually going to be creating a pool of talent that’s going to set the stage for more companies to call Canada home in the long term.”