The H-1B visa system plays a significant — and complex — role in America’s workforce and economy. As the largest guest worker visa program in the US, it is the primary source of high-skilled labor for many specialized jobs. Tech, healthcare, science, finance, and more benefit from thousands of foreign workers who enter the US each year with H-1B visas, and yet the H-1B visa program is facing more hurdles than ever from American lawmakers.
Restricting the entry of foreigners into the US was one of Trump’s 2016 campaign promises, and limiting immigration has become a central issue in his presidency. Over the past nearly four years, the Trump administration has sought — and succeeded in many ways — to slow and reduce immigration to the US. For H-1B visa holders and hopefuls, the road ahead looks bumpier than ever, but there’s another option: Canada.
Here’s what you need to know about the challenges the H-1B visa program faces today and how Canada’s Global Skills Strategy can be a smart alternative.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for H-1B visas
H-1B visas are employer-driven and tied to specific roles, which means that employers petition the government for these visas and are required to pay an H-1B worker as much as or sometimes more than they would pay an American in the same position. Each year, 85,000 H-1B visas are issued, usually via a lottery because there are many more petitions than available visas. These visas are especially vital to the tech industry where H-1B workers hold about 12%–13% of jobs. This may not seem like a lot, but — for comparison — H-1B workers hold about 0.6%–0.7% of U.S. jobs overall.
Despite its popularity, the H-1B program has faced many challenges in recent years.
In 2017, Trump issued his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order which increased scrutiny of entry-level visa applicants for the next few years. But 2020 has been the hardest year yet for the H-1B program. In April of this year, the president issued another executive order that suspended for 60 days the issuance of green cards, and in June he temporarily suspended new work visas and barred hundreds of thousands of foreigners from seeking employment in the US. H-1B visas were included in this sweeping order that the Trump administration claimed would protect American workers.
Then, in October 2020, the H-1B visa system was dealt a new blow — the US Department of Labor announced that US employers will be required to pay H-1B workers significantly higher wages, narrow the types of degrees that qualify applicants, and shorten the length of visas. The Labor Department’s new rule would increase pay for H-1B visa holders by 30%. At first glance, this may seem like good news for visa holders, but in reality, it makes it significantly more difficult for companies to hire foreign workers.
The H-1B visa system has four wage levels, and visa holders’ wage levels are determined by their job and region where they’re employed. For years, a majority of the 85,000 H-1B visas were filled by level one wage earners — the lowest pay level — who are usually entry-level workers or students gaining practical experience. For some employers, the increased pay levels price them out of hiring entry-level foreign workers altogether.
ITServe Alliance — a non-profit trade organization — has filed a lawsuit challenging the increase in the wage levels for H-1B visas. ITServe’s lawsuit claims that the wage increase will cause irreparable harm to American employers and the overall US economy. But as H-1B holders and hopefuls wait for this lawsuit to shake out, many are left uncertain about their futures in America.
Even before all these most recent changes took effect, the Trump administration has been cracking down on H-1B visas, rejecting 15.1% of applications in 2019 compared with 6.1% in 2016. The White House has also proposed ending the H-1B visa lottery, and instead offering visas from highest to lowest salary.
These changes to the H-1B visa system would keep many highly skilled entry level workers out of the US, and international students will especially be hurt by the changes. H-1B status is typically the only way to employ an international student long-term in the United States, but employers may think twice before paying an inexperienced student the same salary as an employee with years of experience.
And if landing a job in the US after graduation is no longer likely, then international students may choose to study elsewhere. There are over 1 million foreign students who study in the US every year — what happens if they leave?
Even with the recent election of President-elect Joe Biden, there’s no guarantee as to whether and when these H-1B visa restrictions may be reversed or at least remediated.
With the H-1B visa system in chaos, visa hopefuls and US employers can instead look to Canada for a faster, more reliable visa system.
Everything you need to know about Canada’s Global Skills Strategy
Canada’s Global Skills Strategy (GSS) is an interesting alternative to America’s H-1B visa. GSS was created to bring top talent from around the globe to Canada, and get them there fast. GSS breaks down into three major parts:
- Two-week visa processing (though it’s been somewhat longer during COVID)
- Launch of Global Talent Stream for employers
- Work permit exemptions for short-term business travel
Many global high-skilled workers who were once interested in working in the US on an H-1B, have turned to Canada because of the long processing times and an increasing rate of H-1B rejections. GSS was created with the same pool of global talent in mind, and its launch in 2017 could not have come at a better time for foreign-born high-skilled talent in need of a better option, right after the US federal government started to make things harder.
Now that Canada has your attention, you may be wondering: who’s eligible for GSS? There are two categories of foreign-born workers who are eligible for GSS: Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA)-exempt workers and workers who require an LMIA.
LMIA-exempt workers must apply for work outside Canada, and the positions they apply for must be “managerial” or “professional” in nature. Most importantly, the employer must be exempt from needing a positive Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) which shows “that there is a need for a foreign worker” based on a combination of factors like whether there’s a labor shortage for that particular job. Workers who require an LMIA must apply for work outside Canada, and their Canadian employer must have a positive LMIA through the Global Talent Stream.
The Global Talent Stream (GTS) empowers Canadian companies to quickly hire highly-skilled foreign talent when Canadians or permanent residents are not available. GTS lets employers skip the LMIA process because the skills they seek are in such high demand that the government gives blanket approval to hire those foreign workers. The kinds of jobs covered by GTS include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics positions like computer programmer and AI engineers.
If working in Canada via the Global Skills Strategy sounds a bit easier than the H-1B visa process, that’s because it is. Better yet, Canada wants you to move north!
Canada plans on welcoming 1.2 million new immigrants over the next three years and is hoping to attract 401,000 new permanent residents next year. With the US experiencing so many bumps in the road in its H-1B visa system and Canada rolling out the welcome mat to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, now is an excellent time to consider a future in Canada.
Path to Canada connects tech talent and Canadian tech companies
Canada is welcoming, but their immigration pathways can be overwhelming to navigate alone. Let Path to Canada guide you on your GSS journey.
Path to Canada helps foreign-born tech workers explore Canadian jobs and connects them with Canadian tech companies willing to sponsor their work permit through Canada’s Global Talent Stream immigration program. Path to Canada will help determine if you’re qualified for a GTS job in Canada, and then match you with a Canadian tech job.
Path to Canada also helps Canadian tech companies find experienced technical talent who are seeking to move permanently to Canada. We pre-qualify applicants for Canada’s Global Talent Stream, so you only interview the very best global talent.