Canadian tech firms call on Ottawa to issue visas for those displaced by US travel ban

People protest Donald Trump's travel ban from Muslim majority countries at the International terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon.

TORONTO (Reuters) – A group of Canadian technology company founders, executives and investors on Sunday called in a letter for Ottawa to immediately give temporary residency to those displaced by a U.S. order banning the entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The open letter said U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order, which temporarily bars travelers from Syria and six other countries and also puts a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States, had already “impacted several in our community.”

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“Canadian tech companies understand the power of inclusion and diversity of thought, and that talent and skill know no borders,” said the letter, signed by more than 200 industry players.

“Many Canadian tech entrepreneurs are immigrants, are the children of immigrants, employ and have been employed by immigrants.”

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Signatories included John Ruffolo, head of the venture arm of one of Canada’s biggest pension funds, and Tobias Lutke, chief executive officer of e-commerce software company Shopify, which went public in 2015 and is valued at around $4.6 billion.

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The Canadian government has not said what, if any, tangible action it could take, but in tweets on Saturday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada welcomed those fleeing war and persecution and posted an archived picture of him greeting Syrian refugees arriving in Toronto in 2015.

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Canada is eager to attract skilled tech workers from abroad while also retaining existing workers and students that are often lured away by global tech firms. More than 300,000 Canadians currently work in Silicon Valley in the United States.

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Last year, Canada benefited from the raucous U.S. election campaign, with new Canadian work permits for highly skilled workers from the United States soaring nearly 54 percent in the first eight months of the year.

One Ontario-based software developer, Sortable, ran an ad campaign targeting tech workers that extolled Canada’s calm political climate. In November, Canada introduced new visa measures that would allow tech firms to quickly recruit foreign talent, including fast approvals and 30-day work permits.

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Judge blocks Trump’s travel ban; can’t deport citizens – Jan 28, 2017

“Policies such as (Trump’s) put everybody in the business community on edge because all global firms have a multicultural work force.‎ But it’s also an opportunity,” Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of BlackBerry Ltd, said in the Globe and Mail newspaper on Saturday.

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“If Canada can quickly implement the global skills visa for tech talent … we can reinforce our country as the place to attract the best talent.”

The U.S. tech industry, a major employer of foreign workers, hit back on Saturday at the sudden executive order on immigration, with some leaders calling it immoral and un-American.

(Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)