Trump's visa ban could be boost for talent-hungry Ottawa firms, immigration lawyer says

Warren Creates
Warren Creates, head of the immigration law group at Ottawa firm Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend new work visas for immigrants – including a visa aimed at highly skilled workers that’s popular among tech firms ​– could be a boon for talent-starved local companies seeking an edge in the intensifying global competition for engineers and other key jobs, a leading Ottawa immigration lawyer says.

The Trump administration on Monday extended a ban on green cards issued outside the U.S. until the end of the year and added many temporary work visas to the freeze. The ban on new visas, which took effect Wednesday, applies to four categories, including H-1B, which is widely used by American technology companies

Warren Creates, head of the immigration law group at Ottawa firm Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall, says the ban offers “great upside” for Canadian companies looking to meet growing demand for highly skilled workers. 

Canada has “one of the most robust and quick immigration programs” in the world for processing new work permit applications, he adds – something that could be a major selling point for employers looking to fill vacancies sooner rather than later.

“There’s lots of opportunity in what’s going on south of the border for Canada,” Creates says, adding most Canadian politicians understand the need for a more open immigration policy than the one being pursued by the Trump administration.

“We’ve got a demographic crisis with an aging population. The sooner we bring more people in, the better.”

That could be good news for local tech firms that consistently rank the shortage of skilled talent as one of their top concerns in reports such as the annual Ottawa Business Growth Survey – and at least one local tech firm wasted little time in responding to the ban.

Ottawa-based e-commerce giant Shopify created a resource page early this week for workers eyeing jobs north of the border, with a link to the company’s career page.

On Tuesday, CEO Tobi Lütke shared a link to the New York Times story about Trump’s order on Twitter, writing: “If this affects your plans consider coming to Canada instead. Shopify is hiring all over the world and we have lots of experience helping with relocation,” later adding, “Canada is awesome. Give it a try.”

Creates says he’s a big fan of Shopify’s move to poach international talent that will now be barred from entering the U.S.

“I think ratcheting up the heat as a counterpoint to what’s going on in the States is great,” he says. “I think it’s amazing what they’re doing, to be on the leading edge of promoting our country and letting it be known about the opportunities that exist here. I’m all for it.”

Creates also says he’s seen an uptick in inquiries in the past few months from Americans wanting to leave the U.S. as well as Canadians living south of the border who want to return home.

“They candidly tell me they have concerns about what’s going on politically in the United States,” he says.

Trump imposed a 60-day ban on green cards issued abroad in April, and the restriction was set to expire Monday. That announcement, which largely targeted family members, drew a surprisingly chilly reception from immigration hardliners, who said the president didn't go far enough.

The freezes on visas issued abroad are designed to take effect immediately. Other changes, including restrictions on work permits for asylum seekers, will go through a formal rule-making process that takes months.

– With files from the Canadian Press