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Trump’s immigration policies may put Canada first

Despite Trump’s interest in a merit-based system, his administration seems more intent on limiting spaces for high-skilled workers
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump (R) at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., on Feb. 13. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Kate Duguid and Gina Chon

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - President Donald Trump's program of economic nationalism may have an unlikely beneficiary: Canada. He praised his neighbour’s merit-based entry system for foreigners. But his administration is cracking down on immigration and has imposed new restrictions on H-1B visas used to attract high-skilled workers. Talent may head north to a more welcoming environment.

In his first speech to Congress in late February, Trump highlighted Canada’s immigration system. He said it ensures foreigners are able to financially support themselves and is better than focusing on low-skilled labor. It uses a points system that considers education levels, ability to speak English or French, work experience and other factors.

Canada has used that approach to increase the number of foreigners coming into the country – the opposite of Trump’s goal. Foreign-born residents make up 20 per cent of Canada’s population, compared with 13 per cent in the United States, according to latest census figures from 2013.

Despite Trump’s interest in a merit-based system, his administration seems more intent on limiting spaces for high-skilled workers. Starting in April, the government will suspend the fast-track process for highly skilled workers applying for H-1B visas in technology and other sectors for up to six months. That expedited method allows for approvals within 15 days instead of a few months.

Trump’s anti-immigration policies could exacerbate labor shortages in an aging society. About 8.2 million baby boomers will leave the workforce through 2035, when the youngest in that cohort turn 71, according to the Pew Research Center. Working-age immigrants could offset nearly 60 percent of those losses, it estimates, if they can get in.

Canada could reap the benefits of a U.S. clampdown. Earlier this month, the government announced it would launch a program in June to facilitate faster access to top overseas talent. The initiative sets a two-week standard for processing work-permit applications, and drops the permit requirement for short-term high-skilled jobs. It also includes a campaign to attract H-1B visa holders.

Because of U.S. immigration worries, venture capitalist Y Combinator recently said it will interview startup founders in Vancouver and experiment with allowing remote participation in its programs. Other tech and engineering talent may follow, hurting American companies.

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