Canada’s tech industry could get a boost from the Trump administration’s proposal to rescind work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders, experts say.
An H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows American companies to employ foreign workers in occupations that require expertise in specialized fields such as in science, engineering and information technology. An H4 visa is issued to dependent family members of H-1B visa holders. Before 2015, H4 Visa holders weren’t allowed to work or obtain a social security number in the United States.
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The Obama administration introduced legislation in 2015 letting spouses of high-skilled or H-1B visa holders work in the United States on H4 dependent visas. However, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement mid-December that it intends to rescind those work permits, which experts say could inadvertently draw high-skilled labour north.
“Being able to bring a spouse or a partner and children is a huge advantage to making that very difficult decision to leave your home country and start over somewhere else,” explained Evelyn Ackah, founder and managing lawyer at Ackah Business Immigration Law in an interview.
“Canada offers that, and it makes it very appealing to come to Canada if you’re a skilled worker. Your spouse is guaranteed an open spousal work permit. This change, I think, will negatively impact those on H-1B, maybe some of them will start leaving,” she said
Officials said at the time that they were acting in the vein of the “Buy-American, Hire-American” executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump this past April.
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Ackah added that while Canadian tech might reap the benefits of this choice, H-1B holders in the United States may start to feel uncertain about their status as these discussions continue.
“I think it’s a concern for a number of industries in the United States and the people who go to the United States thinking that the opportunity is to advance, build a home and settle. I don’t agree with it and I think it’s going to be reflected in the economy of the U.S. and the perception of the U.S. around the world,” she said.
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It’s important to note that the changes to these rules won’t prevent spouses of H-1B Visa holders from finding work in the U.S., as they will still be able to pursue other methods of authorization.
“As you know many people who benefit from the H-1B visa come from India and Pakistan, China and other places where their software engineering, chemistry backgrounds are really advanced. They’re not looking to the U.S. anymore,” Ackah added.
Ackah speculated that Silicon Valley companies with Canadian offices might take steps to transfer H-1B workers to Canada if uncertainty about their job security escalates.
Founding and managing director at Gerami Law PC Arghavan Gerami, echoed these sentiments, and states that when deciding where to relocate, immigrants may opt for Canada in light of these policy changes.
“It seems to me like it’s short-sighted, from a policy perspective, but I think it will work to the advantage of the Canadian economy in that sense because we would likely see those individuals,” Gerami said.
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She goes on to say that many foreign workers with highly marketable skills apply for work visas with the intention of eventually seeking permanent residency — a decision they may rethink if these policy changes make it harder for their spouses to pursue their own careers.
According to reporting from CNN, H4 visa holders can continue to apply for work permits in the interim, though these permits may be stripped if the rule changes go through.
In addition to modifying the eligibility of those on H4 visas to work in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security also proposed altering the definition of what occupations are eligible for the program “to increase focus on truly obtaining the best and brightest foreign nationals.”