Salesforce will invest $2 billion in its Canadian business over the next five years, the company announced on Thursday, growing its office space, data center capacity, and Canadian workforce. The announcement came during a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to San Francisco, where he is meeting with tech company executives to encourage them to grow their businesses in Canada, Reuters reports. In particular, Trudeau hopes to woo these tech companies with Canada’s more business-friendly immigration policies at a time when President Donald Trump is cracking down on legal immigration to the United States:
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff did not specify why the company chose Canada but he said, “Like you, we’re a city that values diversity, we value equality and we also value innovation. …We know we’ll be able to have a great business environment in Canada.” The company did not respond to a question about whether the immigration policies in the two countries influenced the decision.
Other American tech companies have bitten at Trudeau’s offer in the past year, Reuters adds, bolstering his efforts to make Canada (particularly Toronto) a hub for artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies. Since last May, Uber, Alphabet’s DeepMind unit, Facebook, and Microsoft announced plans to establish or expand AI research labs in Canadian cities, including Toronto, Edmonton, and Montreal. Toronto is also on Amazon’s short list of contenders for its second headquarters in North America.
The influx of foreign students to US universities is slowing down and many are opting to study in Canada instead, Laura Krantz reports for the Boston Globe, in a trend driven partly by perceptions of growing hostility toward immigrants in the US since the election of President Donald Trump:
At the University of Toronto, the number of foreign students who accepted admissions offers rose 21 percent over last year, especially from the United States, India, the Middle East, and Turkey. Other universities across the country also saw record increases in the last year. … The increase is not all because of Trump. Canada has made international student recruitment a national goal to spur economic growth. It now has 353,000 international students and wants 450,000 by 2022. But the political uncertainty in the United States — as well as in the United Kingdom — has given Canada’s effort an unexpected boost.
Overall, the number of international students in Canada has grown 92 percent since 2008. They now make up 1 percent of the country’s population. By comparison, the United States has about 1 million foreign students and a population ten times that of Canada. The number of foreign students in the United States has been growing for years, but last year it grew at the slowest rate since 2009.
Seeing a potential advantage over the US and UK, Canada has been making a significant push to lure international talent away from competitor countries, advertising itself as a more welcoming destination for immigrants, and expressing a full-throated defense of diversity and multiculturalism. The campaign is beginning to show results, with some tech startups and talent choosing to set up shop or look for work in Canada rather than the US.
As the Trump administration continues to clamp down on opportunities for skilled foreign workers, their neighbors to the north have moved in the other direction. The Canadian government is actively opening its doors to international talent as the country is increasingly becoming a haven for tech innovation, and these efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
Canada has long been an easier option for immigrants if they are unable to get into the United States, but was widely considered the clear-cut second choice. The current US administration’s plans to tighten the borders, including review of the H1-B visa program and halting adoption of the International Entrepreneur Rule, along with its much more restrictive posture toward immigration in general, have started shifting that assumption.
In response to Canada’s pitch to foreign firms and talent, some startups from the US and other countries are beginning to migrate to Canada, and organizations like Toronto-based Extreme Venture are even reaching out to these companies to help them make the move, the Wall Street Journal reported last week:
One taker was fulfil.io, a cloud-based software platform that aids companies in their supply-chain operations. Two of the company’s founders decided to come to Canada in May from their native India after they had to leave the U.S. when their H1-B visas expired and renewal proved difficult. They closed their first sales deal a month later. “Canada looks like the right place to grow,” said one, Sharoon Thomas, fulfil.io CEO. “I’m just surprised that we didn’t think of it first.”
For workers, the pull of a Facebook or Google paycheck and the Silicon Valley locale is still hard to beat, but Canadian government officials, tech leaders, and venture capitalists are making a concerted effort to court American tech talent.
We’ve looked before at how Canada is responding to efforts to tighten immigration policy in the US and UK by reaching out to global talent, particularly in the tech sector, who may now be having second thoughts about looking for work in those countries. As the Trump Administration cracks down on H-1B visas and the UK prepares to withdraw from the EU and end open migration from the continent, Canada is actually liberalizing its immigration policies to entice more skilled workers from abroad (including Americans) to join the tech startup communities in Vancouver and Toronto.
None of this is particularly surprising, but it is noteworthy how central the values of inclusion and pluralism are to the case Canada is making for itself as a talent destination. For example, answering a leading question on Quora on Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau identified diversity as one of the greatest strengths of the country’s education system and workforce, emphasizing that “a group of smart, capable people focus[ing] on the same problem from a range of different perspectives, backgrounds and lived experiences is much more likely to come up with great answers than a homogeneous group would”:
The reason University of Waterloo is the top recruiting spot for Silicon Valley certainly has to do with the incredible multiculturalism of its graduates, and not just for the high quality of education. And that’s true right across Canadian schools and institutions.
And we want to encourage that in an active way, by reaching out beyond our borders: Our global talent stream will facilitate two-week work permit processing time, so companies in Canada will be able to bring in highly-skilled international workers, including engineers, quickly and efficiently. It will give employers a faster and more predictable process for bringing in top talent and new skills to Canada. We want to help high-growth companies bring in the talent they need quickly by slashing the processing time for a Canada visa application from six months to just 10 business days.
Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election set off a round of speculation that the US might suffer brain drain in the Trump administration as young, left-leaning workers acted on their threats to move to Canada for good, or at least for the next four years. For Canadian employers, of course, such an exodus would be welcome. So how likely is the Trump presidency to drive skilled American workers north into the arms of Canada’s tech sector? Steven Melendez investigates at Fast Company:
[S]ince the election, Canadian tech firms say far more U.S. coders are showing a serious interest in migrating north just as the Canadian government has put the welcome mat out. In fact, days before Trump’s election, Ottawa issued new regulations making it easier for foreign skilled workers to come to the country. The net effect could give a boost to the Canadian tech industry, which has long lamented a “brain drain” to Silicon Valley.
“The most significant thing is not the election,” [Sortable cofounder and CEO Christopher] Reid says. “It’s that the Canadian government is going to make it easy to recruit in the U.S.” …
At the same time, Trump’s election does seem to be motivating some U.S. workers to take a more-than-joking look at relocating north. Reid says that in the days immediately following the election, U.S. traffic to Sortable’s career site jumped from four or five hits per week to more than 200 per day, and the company even received a handful of job applications mentioning the political climate in the United States.
At the same time, the Trump administration is expected to crack down on H-1B skilled worker visas as part of a general anti-immigration agenda, which will likely make it more difficult for US employers, particularly high-tech companies, to hire talent from abroad. And as Nevin Thompson points out at Quartz, the US isn’t the only country whose immigration policies are likely to become more restrictive in the coming year: