Competing Countries are Poaching America's Programmers...

Gary C. Bizzo |

Via Sergey Galyonkin

Skilled programmers seem to be on the shortlist of people in demand for a fast growing technology market. From New Zealand to Canada and the US, there have been incentives to attract the best and the brightest to our hi-tech firms.

It has been ingrained in our culture through movies, books and countless success stories that Silicon Valley was the place to go if you are a programmer. Stories of high-end incentives, great working conditions and incredible salaries dominated the 1990’s... and it worked. Silicon Valley’s culture attracted every American with advanced computer skills and immigrants in droves competing for the same jobs.

I remember sharing my downtown Vancouver office with a hi-tech company in the 1990’s. The company could not keep employees no matter what they did. Silicon Valley had better on-going incentives and certainly paid a lot more money. When you add the always-present exchange rate on the Canadian dollar it’s a wonder Vancouver startups even had a chance.

Fast-forward to 2017. Things have changed, but also remain the same. Silicon Valley still attracts the most talented but outsiders are now beginning to have trouble applying for the jobs.

President Trump’s immigration policies have thrown everyone into frenzy. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year 2018 cap on April 3, 2017. All cap-subject H-1B petitions filed before April 3, 2017, for the FY 2018 cap will be rejected. They also quietly slipped in new guidelines that preclude computer programmers from securing an H-1B visa.

The H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty. What’s happening is the H-1B is going to US programmers, reducing the visas available for foreign workers. The guidelines show that the documentation for the visa will be complex and tough to circumvent.

These changes don’t address the issue of non-citizens already in the country or people wanting to immigrate to the US to work in their chosen programming specialty. Their current and future status is completely up in the air considering President Trump’s approach to immigration.

Trump’s administration has been clear that America First is the focus and that includes US citizens getting job priority. On the surface the rules seems to address the problem of outsourcing companies bringing in foreign workers and putting them into non-specialty jobs.

It’s a double-edged problem, a reduction of immigrant visas and people seeking to leave the US for other opportunities

Recent news stories indicate a growing number of foreign workers already employed in programming jobs are fearful of what the Administration may do next and are taking steps to protect themselves and their livelihood.

When a door closes a window opens. Opportunity is being used to fill a growing need in Canada. From Moncton, a small city in New Brunswick on the East Coast of Canada to Vancouver’s thriving hi-tech sector companies are looking for, and securing immensely qualified employees.



Last month, Honourable Ahmed Hussen, federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and New Brunswick’s Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Tracing and Labor signed the Canada-New Brunswick Immigration Agreement (C-NBIA). This effectively allows the province to recruit foreign workers, particularly programmers, and guarantee them citizenship status. This coupled with the Atlantic Growth Strategy, including the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program provide a strong notice to immigrants that their talents are needed and wanted.

This week Moncton, population of 145,000, hired an HR firm and took their plea for programmers and others to New York City. Giving a presentation about small-town charm and a relaxed East Coast lifestyle appealed to the roughly 300 applicants who showed up at a Manhattan hotel. Keri Alberts who works for 3Plus Corp., an economic development corporation helping the Moncton region recruit workers said there were 1000+ openings for skilled workers in their hi-tech community. People interviewed by CBC News said they were worried about their future in the US and were attracted by the fast-track residency that comes with employment in Moncton. Some came from as far away as New Hampshire for the job fair.

Clearly the problem is not just about immigrants it’s about a working environment that is free of uncertainty and trepidation. People are fearful that even if President Trump only has four years in office the system will be changed for many years.

On the West Coast, Vancouver is having unprecedented growth in hi-tech. British Columbia is on par with the rest of Canada in attracting skilled foreign workers but they tend to be less educated than Canadians in the same field. As in a lot of cases but certainly not all, I think the US was the first choice of computer workers but they settle for Canada because of our immigration policies.

The B.C. government’s support for shortening the waiting period for skilled foreign workers coming to B.C. under the B.C. provincial nominee program, as well as its support for the federal government’s Express Entry immigration program for workers with specialized tech skills, have the potential to impact many of performance indicators in the future.

Vancouver has the enviable position of being in the global top 20 hi-tech hubs and certainly is number one in Canada. It also gets many of its programmers and others from the Pacific Rim countries. With the technology sector in a global competition and startups needing talent, Asia is keeping our tech industry alive. Vancouver is looking at luring quality immigrants from the US as well and the incentives to immigrate are as focused as the Maritimes.

Canada has lots of options for securing qualified programmers and hi-tech workers. The Seattle-Vancouver Corridor also known as the Cascadia Corridor brings a vision of hi-tech leaders to bridge the resources of both cities. Last year, Microsoft (MSFT) opened a $120MM facility in Vancouver with the plan to have 750 people working here. Part of the reason to move into Vancouver was the cost differential but while most of the employees will be Canadian the ease of immigration was a factor.

A Vancouver Company, True North might have an answer to some companies worried about a mass exodus to Canada. “True North is working with people in Vancouver and Silicon Valley to help ensure that whatever exodus results from the new Trump administration does not endanger our ability to advance technology globally,” explains Michael Tippett, Co-Founder.

True North’s philosophy is simple, “as firms manage an uncertain immigration future, they are looking for new ways to ensure business continuity. True North helps by moving all impacted employees and their job to Vancouver. It requires a valid H-1B, the employer to incorporate a subsidiary in Vancouver, and sometimes a quick visit.”

The hi-tech industry has always been disruptive and innovative and they will figure out a way for everyone to win.

…As a door closes a window opens!

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