Earlier this summer, Canada made an offer to aliens in the United States who had existing H-1B visas: Come to Canada even without a job secured, and bring your family. Your spouse and kids can come and they can work, too. We will, Canada said, keep the offer open for a year, or until 10,000 have applied.
In effect, Canada let the United States do the screening of the aliens involved, something I have rarely, if ever, encountered; one nation admitting aliens based on another’s decisions. Further, the provisions for work permits for family members were broader and more generous than ours; we only grant work permits to spouses of senior H-1Bs, those employers have decided to file for permanent residence for the H-1B in question. This is the H-4 visa.
And, of course, we only grant an H-1B worker a visa if he (usually) or she has a job offer from a qualified employer. There was no similar rule on the Canadian side. An alien with an American H-1B could come to Canada as a job-seeker, and bring the family along as well.
The workplace environment that the Canadian offer was made in is a factor. As we have reported many times, our tech industries have engaged in numerous layoffs of both citizen and alien workers, many of the latter being H-1Bs, and the administration has been steadily changing the rules to relieve pressure on H-1Bs who have lost their jobs. One no longer has to return to the homeland to renew an H-1B visa, for example.
So there were lots of H-1B workers in the United States who were facing the prospect of having to return home even after extended grace periods following their layoffs. Further, the entire population of H-1B workers in the United States (excluding dependents) is on the order of 700,000 to 800,000 or so. This means that even if only 2 percent of them wanted to go to Canada, the offer would be over-subscribed.
What happened to the Canadian offer? It was filled within 48 hours, as reported by Forbes.
Meanwhile the totally inflexible U.S. immigration system marched ahead in lockstep, and despite the flagging tech job market, and the (more recent) flight of the 10,000 northward, issued new H-1B visas for the usual 85,000 this spring. Then a bit of reality occurred: DHS granted 110,00 new applications in the hope of filling the 85,000 slots, but in 25,000 or more cases the offer was refused, so that DHS had to run a second lottery.
The quick departure of the H-1Bs to Canada and the need for a second lottery both reflect the fact that there really is no shortage of tech workers in the States.