The world’s preferred destination for immigrants has decided to restrict issue of new green cards
as well as short-term work permits. Ostensibly aimed at protecting American workers, this
decision is likely to impact both the US as well as its neighbor Canada for a long time ahead.
A quick comparison of immigration-centric responses by Canada and the USA will be instructive
before assessing the implications of recent immigration restrictions in the US on Canada.
Immigration Restrictions due to the Covid-19 Pandemic
Post the Covid-19 lockdown, Canada has explicitly stated no immigration application will be
refused/rejected solely due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Further, Canada has
conducted 14 EE draws between April and June 2020. CRS scores to qualify for the Invitation to
Apply (ITA) have been steadily decreasing.
The only blip, if it can be described so, is that ITAs have been restricted to PNP-stream and
Canada Experience Class applicants. But this is a logical restriction considering international
travel hasn’t restarted, which means immigration processing is possible only for those already I
Policy measures deployed by the US make it seem as if President Trump holds immigration
responsible for the Covid-19 crisis.
- Issue of new green cards was suspended in April, with the original 60-day suspension
extended to December 31,2020.
- The June proclamation adds H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 visas to the list of restricted visas.
These restrictions bar foreigners outside the US without a green card or without any of the
above-mentioned work visas from entering the country using any of these visas until December
Impact of the Immigration Restrictions
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that the latest set of restrictions will adversely impact
around 170,000 temporary workers. President Trump justified the restrictions claiming it was
essential to protect American jobs.
US unemployment is hovering above 13 percent and more than 20 million Americans claiming
unemployment benefits as of the first week of June. So transferring 170,000 jobs from foreign
workers to Americans, an unlikely premise, will not really impact the big picture.
An Opportunity Lost
If qualified Americans are losing jobs to cheap foreign labor, then the US response to the
pandemic may represent a huge lost opportunity to clean up the system.
The Foreign Labor Certification process requires US employers to prove that the foreign worker
is being hired because they could not find skilled American workers for the position, and that the
foreign hire is not being hired at below-standard wages.
Perhaps introducing a more stringent certification process would have served the long-term
interests of the US better.
US’ Loss Will be Canada’s Gain
The US’ loss is definitely going to be Canada’s gain here. Unlike the US, Canada has everything
that an immigrant seeks in a foreign destination. Some reasons why immigrants are increasingly
choosing Canada over the US include-
- A stable and transparent immigration system where the government announces multi-year
immigration targets well in advance.
- Merit-based immigration programs with detailed scoring systems that clearly highlight
what Canada looks for in its skilled immigrants.
- A decentralized setup where provinces are free to assess their needs and frame
immigration programs, even restrictive ones as Quebec did, accordingly.
- A clearly-defined study-work-immigrate path along with access to big and small
employers spread over all important sectors of economic activity.
How Canada will Benefit
The latest decision is going to strengthen the perception that the US is no longer welcoming
immigrants, which is only going to compel skilled foreign workers to seek alternatives.
The suspension of the work visas merely marks the culmination of four years of sharp political
rhetoric, adverse administrative rules, controversial proposals, and negative rule changes faced
by H-1B workers in the US.
The past three-four years have witnessed a huge surge in the number of Indians, especially
skilled workers and professionals, seeking permanent residence in Canada
The reasons are not difficult to find. Indian skilled workers and those advanced degrees are
looking at a 50-year waiting period for their green card applications.
Canada, on the other hand, offers a work permit under its Global Talent Stream in just ten days
and PR applications through the Express Entry application system for skilled workers ranges
between six to twelve months.
The latest set of restrictions seem to be primarily an political decision, as opposed to an
economic one. This will only strengthen the perception that immigrants are at the mercy of
prevailing political sentiments in the US will become stronger.
The biggest impact of this American decision will reflect in the number of foreign students
choosing Canada over the US as their preferred study destination . Foreign education, especially
for those from countries like India, China, or Vietnam, is never only about the degree.
The US was a very popular study destination because Optional Practical Training and the H-1B
work visa offered a predictable route to EB-category permanent residence green cards.
That link has been effectively destroyed, and students are unlikely to risk studying in a country
where there’s very little clarity about their future prospects.
Canada, with its post-graduation work permit and the numerous federal and provincial programs
for skilled workers, international graduates, and even entrepreneurs will attract greater interest
from foreign students.
Also, Canada will become the logical alternative for big US employers.
Big companies like Google and Apple are unlikely to shut shop in the US. However, they are
unlikely to ignore the advantages of expanding their presence in Canada and to leverage its well-
oiled skilled immigration system to attract foreign talent from across the world.
Employers can avoid the risks and complications involved in outsourcing work to India as well
as in the chaotic immigration setup in the US today.
Considering its adverse impact on foreign workers and the dubious benefits it offers to
unemployed Americans, the ‘temporary’ restrictions on immigration in the US may result in
significant long-term consequences for the US as well as Canada.