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Laid Off US H1B Visa Holders Flock To Canada Via New Work Permit Scheme

Canada is becoming an employment haven for US-based H-1B visa holders who have been affected by layoffs in the technology sector

Thu Nov 16 2023

H-1B visa holders laid off by employers in the US are flocking to Canada, making use of a work permit scheme piloted this year. 

On July 16th, the Canadian government launched a three-year open work permit scheme, aimed at providing up to 10,000 US-based H-1B visa holders with a path to employment in Canada. So far, more than 6,000 confirmed H-1B visa holders have made use of the scheme, which has now been closed for applications. 

The H-1B visa is a highly coveted route into the US for international students, allowing holders to stay in the country and work for a sponsoring company for three years after completing a higher education degree. After their visa expires, H-1B visa holders have the option to extend for a further three years. 

Vast swathes of MBA and business masters graduates make use of the scheme every year to land roles with top H-1B sponsoring companies, often with big tech firms including the likes of Apple, Meta, and Google. 

But H-1B holders were dealt a blow earlier this year when a series of layoffs hit the tech industry in the US. Amazon—the largest sponsor of H-1B visas in 2022—announced 18,000 staff cuts, while Microsoft laid off 10,000 members of its workforce, and Google reduced its headcount by 12,000.

The layoffs left H-1B visa holders with 60 days to leave the country, transfer to a new visa, or find a new employer to provide sponsorship. 

However the Canadian work permit scheme offered a fourth option, providing those affected by the layoffs with the chance to move to Canada and take up employment within the country. 

Applications for the scheme reached capacity the following day. As of October, the Canadian government confirmed more than 6,000 laid off H-1B visa holders have been granted a permit to cross the border and take up employment. 

The scheme is part of a wider initiative to boost Canada’s technology sector and attract international talent to the country. The Tech Talent Strategy, announced earlier this year, involves a number of similar initiatives including a program to help build innovative businesses and a push to attract digital nomads. 

Canada’s tech sector has flourished in recent years. According to a CBRE study published in July 2023, Vancouver has the highest tech job growth rate of all cities across North America, followed by Calgary and the Waterloo Region. 

Overall, growth among Canada’s tech talent outpaced the US by more than 11% between 2020 and 2022, the study revealed. 

While Canada attracts laid off H-1B visa holders, the US Department of Homeland Security has proposed a number of changes to the H-1B visa scheme, including streamlining eligibility requirements and strengthening integrity measures. 

Find out more: 4 Proposed H1B Visa Changes & How They Could Affect US International Students