U.S. Travel Woes Could Drive Top Talent Out of the Country and Into Canada

By now, you've likely heard about the U.S. travel ban implemented by President Donald Trump. In short, on January 25, President Trump signed an executive order that banned nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen – even nationals with the proper visas – from entering the U.S. The move sparked widespread protest and condemnation from several major companies, including Google, Facebook, and Apple. The order was temporarily suspended by a federal judge and remains so for now, but what will happen next is anyone's guess.

According to lawyers from the Canada-based business law firm Fasken Martineau, the uncertainty surrounding the ban is causing a lot of top talent to reconsider working in America.

"We have had many individuals – even before the ban, immediately after the election of President Trump – saying, 'We don't know what is going to happen in the U.S. We don't feel that we are welcome here anymore, so we would like to move to Canada,'" says Gilda Villaran, a corporate immigration law partner at Fasken Martineau. "And these are very highly skilled professionals."

Fasken Martineau has also heard from clients – mainly European tech companies with subsidiaries in the U.S. – about setting up subsidiaries in Canada in order to move their personnel to a country with a more stable immigration situation.

"There are companies who have employees in the U.S. who are potentially in jeopardy, and they want a Canadian entity to move them to," says Cindy Switzer, a labor and employment lawyer at Fasken Martineau. "[We're hearing] particularly from tech clients, partly because it's such a mobile industry and employees can do things anywhere."

The potential northward flight of talent and companies is good news for Canada's emerging tech industry, but it poses a threat to U.S.-based tech companies and the country's overall economy. That may be why so many of the travel ban's most vocal critics in the business world have come from tech companies.

"We obviously are going to respond positively to these inquiries, because Canada welcomes citizens from everywhere in the world if they meet all the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act," Villaran says. "Not only that, but we are going to actively pursue opportunities to indicate that Canada is an alternative to the U.S. to have subsidiaries or to establish tech companies because of our welcoming, open policies that are not likely to change."

It is this unlikeliness to change that really catches corporate eyes. The executive order may be halted for now, but there's no guarantee it won't be reinstated. Companies don't want to have to worry about whether or not their employees will still be able to travel freely tomorrow.

"The big thing now in the U.S. is uncertainty," Villaran says. "Right now, travelers can travel, but we don't know what is going to happen next week, whereas here [in Canada], we have a policy that is really stable. Those things are not going to change."

The Canadian Government Steps In

Shortly after President Trump's executive order rocked the U.S., 150 members of the Canadian tech community signed a letter calling on the Canadian government to "institute an immediate and targeted visa providing those currently displaced by the U.S. Executive Order with temporary residency in Canada."

While such a targeted visa has not been implemented, the Canadian government did issue a special measure to aid people impacted by the travel ban. The measure states, in part, that "individuals in Canada who have made travel arrangements to enter the United States and who have the documents normally required to enter the U.S., but who cannot travel to the U.S. due to the Executive Order, can apply for temporary status in Canada, or apply to have their current temporary status extended."

Villaran says a targeted visa like the one called for by the Canadian tech community may not even be necessary.

"It would be great if we could have more facilitative policies, but we can already do a lot to get people here without any changes," Villaran says. "We can obtain work permits for the employees [who are citizens of the seven countries affected by the ban] in a matter of a few weeks. We don't need immigration Canada to do anything else."

It's Not All Good News for Canada

While the Canadian tech sector could be poised for a windfall of sorts, the travel ban isn't without negative consequences for the country. Many Canadian companies do business in the U.S., and their employees may be unable to travel to the U.S. as a result of the ban.

"The tech industry [in Canada] has a high proportion of people from all over the world, including those seven countries [on the ban list]," Switzer says. "So we have people here who were ... previously able to visit the U.S. as business visitors, and because of the uncertainty, they may not be able to do that anymore."

Still, considering the influx of talent that might come Canada's way, this could be a comparatively small price to pay.

[Ed. Note: This article does not constitute legal advice.]