The H-1B visa, which allows US employers to bring high-skilled workers, particularly in the tech sector, has gone from being a sought-after visa to one that evokes confusion and uncertainty. Since Donald Trump became the president of the US in 2017, his administration has waged a war on immigration, including high-skilled immigration and specifically the H-1B visa.
For example, according to the National Foundation of American Policy, “the denial rate for initial H-1B petitions has risen from 6% in FY 2015 to 24% in FY 2018 and 32% in the first quarter of FY 2019.” Meaning the certainty of getting that key hire in on an H-1B visa is lower than ever.
In some cases these US-educated individuals are already working on their F-1 student visa and they want to continue with the same employer and simply switch over to an H-1B visa. It would seem like a no-brainer to allow an employer to keep their US-educated worker, particularly who may already have been working with them for as long as three years. But alas, H-1B denial rates affect these individuals as well.
In addition to the high denial rates, most new H-1B visas are subject to a yearly cap of 85,000 – if more applications are submitted, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the agency that adjudicates and issues H-1B visas, runs a lottery. This year, for the first time ever, USCIS will run an electronic lottery through a new online registration portal.
So as we enter the thick of the FY 2021 H-1B cap season over the next few months, the excitement of potentially getting that US work authorization is, in many cases, outweighed by the trends from the past few years, new government technology and overall high anti-immigrant sentiment.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU DON’T GET CHOSEN IN THE H-1B LOTTERY?
At the end of the day, given that only 85,000 new H-1B visas will be issued, there’s a chance your application won’t get selected in the lottery. So if you’re relying on an H-1B visa this year to come to or stay in the US at a high-skill job, you need to consider a back-up plan.
First and foremost, there are a few ways you can try and stay in the US if you aren’t chosen in the H-1B lottery, and some challenges with each of them:
- Go back to or stay in school on an F-1 visa. One way of remaining in the US is to either enroll in or continue with higher-ed in the US, say by getting a master’s of engineering, PhD in computer science, MBA or something similar that maps to the most in-demand careers. Of course this means that you have to spend additional years of your life going back to school, which while in and of itself is not a bad thing, it’s years of working lost, very expensive, and still not a guarantee at the eventual H-1B – it’s only a second chance.
- See if you might qualify for an O-1 visa. The O-1 visa, which is available for individuals with “extraordinary ability” in their field may be an option for those folks who are truly at the top of their field. A tech-related example might be an award-winner artificial intelligence scientist or a successful entrepreneur with startup acquisitions under their belt or. If eligible, an O-1 visa recipient can come to the US for an initial term of three years and then file year-long extensions as long as they need to, which makes this visa attractive. But of course the O-1 visa is extremely hard to get and is oftentimes very expensive, so it’s not a likely route for most IT professionals who are indeed good at what they do but likely not international award-winners or successful startup CEOs.
- Invest in the US if you have the money and get an E-2 visa. Otherwise known as a Treaty Investor visa, an individual from a treaty country can invest into a company, whether their own or, in the instance of an employer trying to bring someone over to the US, into the employer itself. The investment must be not-insubstantial, so generally at least $100,000, and the individual, most importantly, must be a national of a treaty country. While many countries are on this list, importantly India, which is a major hub of tech talent, is not. Meaning Indian nationals can’t avail themselves of the E-2 visa, even if they have the funds and appropriate investment vehicle.
There are other, even more complex ways, to work in the US such as applying for the Green Card lottery or working abroad for a company that has a US presence and then, after several years, apply for an L-1 intracompany transferee. But as you can tell, there’s no straightforward way to come and work in the US if you aren’t selected for the H-1B visa.
Which is a shame, especially for technology professionals who are both in high demand and have a lot to contribute.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, there’s a better option than the H-1B visa and all the less-than-likely alternatives: coming to Canada.
Why coming to Canada is now becoming plan A
Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees and consultations, applying for multiple visa categories and hinging your career, family and future on the whims of the US immigration system, the clearer, more straightforward and friendlier option is to come to Canada.
Canada’s Global Talent Stream (GTS) program, which launched in 2017, is the answer to the H-1B problem. It’s a government initiative that allows employers with job openings in certain high-need categories to hire foreign talent year-round, quickly, and consistently, and incentivize those individuals to eventually become permanent residents and Canadian citizens in a fraction of the time it takes in the US.
HERE ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT GTS:
- Qualifications are clear. There is a list of occupations that qualify you for a job under the Global Talent Stream. A few examples include, “Computer and information systems managers,” “Software engineers and designers,” “Information systems analysts and consultants” and more. In other words, if you fall into one of the designated occupational categories (which, if you’re a tech professional, you probably will), and you meet a few other minimum requirements, that’s all you need to work in Canada.
- There’s no “cap season.” In the US, individuals who are trying to get an H-1B for the first time, whether from abroad, or from within the US if they’re already there as a student or on some other visa, can only do so once a year during what’s come to be known as “H-1B cap season.” With GTS, the doors are open all year, so if you find a GTS-qualified job and you fit the bill, you can apply.
- It can take as little as 2-3 weeks. H-1B visa applications, on average, take months, in some cases half a year to be adjudicated, especially given the rise of requests for evidence, which force attorneys and employers to provide more and more supplemental information and thereby drag the entire process out. The GTS process, on the other hand, can take as little as two weeks. Meaning that you can submit your application today and find out if you’re approved in two weeks. Then, in just a few more weeks, you can be in Canada, settling into your new job and life.
- Permanent residency and is much more accessible. In the US, depending on where you’re from, permanent residency (PR) can take decades. Most shocking is the wait time for nationals of India – even those in high-level technology jobs at big companies may have to wait as long as fifty years. That’s right, fifty years. In Canada, on the other hand, there are several ways to be eligible for PR, none of which take fifty years. Plus, when you become a resident, you become eligible for national healthcare, other social benefits, public education and so on. We wrote about the Canadian PR process here if you want to learn more.
The Canadian tech sector is booming. And finally, and probably most importantly, is the underlying fact that Canada’s tech sector is booming. We wrote about all the large companies, from US-based Google, Microsoft and Uber opening up large hubs across Canada, to Canada-born tech giants like Shopify and Clio expanding within the country rather than necessarily looking overseas. This means thousands of high-paying technology jobs being added in a country where, as these companies are aware, high-skilled immigrants are welcome with open arms.
Don’t wait until it’s too late – start exploring Canada now.
Too many talented technology professionals around the world still believe that getting an H-1B visa and moving to the US is the only way to truly advance a career in tech. Well, that’s just no longer true, and in fact in many cases, especially in the realm of artificial intelligence and machine learning, Canada actually beats out most of the world, including the US.
So don’t wait until it’s too late – until you find out your H-1B application wasn’t selected in the lottery, or worse, it was selected in the lottery but ultimately not approved. Start exploring Canada now, because it truly has the best of both worlds – best-in-class technology jobs and an incredibly open and welcoming immigration system.
Let Path to Canada be your guide. Find out if you can get a job and start working in Canada by completing our questionnaire, or simply reach out to us to learn more.