Canada Wins, U.S. Loses In Global Fight For High-Tech Workers
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
OK, I know it's early, but we have a quiz for you. Which North American city saw the biggest growth in technology jobs over the past five years? Wasn't San Francisco. Wasn't Seattle. Not even New York. The correct answer is Toronto - North American city. The tech industry across Canada is booming, and one of the biggest reasons is immigration policy in the United States. NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hundreds of tech workers pack an auditorium for a networking event in downtown Toronto recently as the evening's emcee glides around the room on a hoverboard.
JASON GOLDLIST: All right, ladies and gentlemen, welcome, welcome, welcome.
ROSE: Jason Goldlist is equal parts tech bro and game show host. He's a co-founder of TechToronto, an organization that helps newcomers navigate the city's fast-growing tech scene.
GOLDLIST: Who here is new to Canada? Can we have a show of hands?
ROSE: Dozens of hands shoot up in the air.
ROSE: Goldlist slides his hoverboard over to one of them.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm a newcomer in Canada.
GOLDLIST: Where are you joining us from?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Brazil.
GOLDLIST: Hey, I love it. When did you arrive here in Canada?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Three months ago.
GOLDLIST: Three months ago. Here at TechTO, kicking it off.
ROSE: If there is a war for global tech talent, right now, Canada is winning, and the U.S. may be losing its edge. The Trump administration has made it harder for high-skilled workers to get visas and blocked entrepreneurs from some majority-Muslim countries altogether. Canada, meanwhile, has been making it easier for tech workers to immigrate there.
ALEX NORMAN: While the States has gone, let's make it difficult to get the employees here on a visa, Canada's gone the exact opposite, and it's beneficial to Canada.
ROSE: Alex Norman is the other, more reserved co-founder of TechToronto. He says the Trump administration's policies are pushing tech workers away.
NORMAN: There's a lot of people that New York or San Francisco or the States would've been the first call. Now, just because of uncertainty, has made places like Toronto more attractive and their first choice.
ROSE: Meanwhile, U.S. tech companies say they can't get enough foreign workers and there aren't enough qualified candidates in the U.S. to fill all the open jobs. President Trump says he understands the problem.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE INGRAHAM ANGLE")
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to allow smart people to stay in our country.
ROSE: Here's Trump talking to Laura Ingraham on Fox News earlier this month.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE INGRAHAM ANGLE")
TRUMP: We don't have enough of them, and we have to be competitive with the rest of the world, too.
ROSE: But global tech workers say the Trump administration's policies make the U.S. less welcoming - people like Ozge Yoluk, who started a new job in Toronto this month. Yoluk, who was born in Turkey, just finished a postdoc at the University of Maryland in Baltimore in computational biology. What's that?
OZGE YOLUK: So what I describe it - it's like playing video games.
ROSE: Except in these video games, the characters are proteins and experimental drugs. The company she joined is called ProteinQure, which is using tech to design new treatments. Pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. are doing similar work, but Yoluk says she didn't even bother applying for those jobs.
YOLUK: Getting a visa in U.S. is not easy, and it's really costly not just for the companies, but also for the person itself.
ROSE: High-skilled workers are getting rejected at a higher rate under the Trump administration. In 2015, 92% of new H-1B visa applications were approved. But in the last two years, the approval rate dipped to only 75%. This has made U.S. companies more reluctant to sponsor foreign workers and foreign workers more reluctant to go through the process, says Yoluk.
YOLUK: I said, I will not waste my time applying for positions in the States. Whereas in Canada, the process was easy, and I had all the help I could get.
ROSE: Yoluk says she got her Canadian visa approved in about two weeks. She didn't even need a lawyer to navigate the process.
A few blocks away, I met Milad Zabihi at a coffee shop in downtown Toronto.
MILAD ZABIHI: We are a bunch of, like, you know, friends from, like, you know, university time. We were thinking of, like, you know, starting something new.
ROSE: Zabihi is the CEO of a startup called Peekage, which helps companies target customers. He immigrated to Canada from Iran. Several of the company's other co-founders are also Iranian. Zabihi says they wanted to locate in the U.S., but then Trump's travel ban blocked most immigrants and visitors from Iran and several other Muslim-majority countries.
ZABIHI: Everyone was like, OK, the U.S. is not an option, especially with, like, you know, what is happening right now with the new administration and Islam. So we were basically thinking of, like, what would be the best next option.
ROSE: For a growing number of tech workers around the globe, that best next option is Canada.
Joel Rose, NPR News, Toronto.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARLEY CARROLL'S "MIGRATION")
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