Canada Immigration Updates: Canada Closes Its New H-1B Tech Work Permit Program in Less than 48 hours; Digital Nomad and Start-Up Visas Remain Available


At the end of June 2023, Canada released its first-ever comprehensive Tech Talent Strategy comprised primarily of four, new bold immigration programs and initiatives that are designed to attract and retain foreign STEM talent within Canada’s tech sector. The first immigration initiative launched on Sunday, July 16, 2023 and closed in less than 48 hours on July 17, Monday evening, due to high demand from H-1B workers living in the United States.

Global and U.S. employers that employ H-1B workers, are interested in growing their talent mobility capabilities, and/or are building its work-from-anywhere policies should pay attention to the direction of Canada Tech Talent Strategy as it continues to unfold over the next year. In this alert, we provide highlights of the new programs.

Canada’s New Immigration Initiatives
  1. Canadian H-1B Work Permit: On July 16, 2023, H-1B specialty occupation visa holders in the United States were eligible to apply for open work permits in Canada for up to three years. This practically means that if their application was approved, the H-1B visa holder could work for any employer in Canada, and also bring their immediate family members. This temporary program gained great interest from India and Chinese H-1B visa holders in the U.S. Within two days of the program opening, all 10,000 slots were filled and the program closed. This initiative was designed to be temporary and only in effect for one year. It is unclear at this time whether Canada will renew this program considering its popularity and demand.
  2. Digital Nomad Visa: Under the new Tech Talent Strategy, Canada is also introducing an attractive visa initiative for digital nomads. Individuals can now relocate to Canada with visitor status for up to six months while working remotely for a foreign employer. This option is immediately available as it broadens the application and interpretation of existing Canadian visitor visa rules and regulations, and no work permit is needed.
  3. Exemptions for the Labor Market Impact Assessment: By the end of 2023, Canada will introduce a new innovation stream under its International Mobility Program and create an exemption for employers so that they won’t need to undergo the rigorous and time-consuming labor market impact assessment process before hiring foreign workers. This measure is particularly designed with high-growth employers and high-tech industries in mind.
  4. Return to 2-week processing for Global Skills Work Permits and More Start-Up Visas: Canada is also striving to improve its processing times for certain immigration applications and enhancing visa options for STEM talent and start-ups. Canada immigration authorities will be resuming 14-day service for work permits under the Global Skills Strategy. In addition, Canada will be allocating increased spots for the Start-up Visa Program, prioritizing applications from entrepreneurs that are supported by venture capital, angel investor groups and business incubators. In addition, all start-up members will be eligible for an open work permit for up to three years.
What Does this Mean for Employers and Foreign Talent in the U.S.

Canada’s overall new initiative offers employers with both U.S. and Canada locations to improve mobility between their two operations. However, U.S companies will also likely continue to lose some foreign talent to Canada because of its more favorable immigration policies.

Dubbed the “Canadian H-1B work permit”, this new program created to poach top talent in the U.S. already quickly proved to attract Indian and Chinese H-1B visa holders who experience the longest and most challenging roads to lawful permanent residence in the United States. Despite this specific program closing for now, Canada continues to innovate in the immigration space and offer alternative and more certain routes for permanence for individuals and their families. As a result, HR and managers should be prepared with thoughtful policies and approaches on how to handle increased requests from their employees to transfer to Canada.

Interestingly, on the flip side, Canada’s new programs also offer alternative strategies to help H-1B employees remain in the U.S. For example, an H-1B visa holder who may be maxing out on their six year limit in the U.S. could temporarily move to Canada under the H-1B work permit or digital nomad visa route, and ultimately return to the U.S. once their green card application has progressed to a point where they would be eligible for additional H-1B time. 

What are the Steps Employers Should Take
  • Identify high-risk H-1B employees who may be maxing out on their H-1B period of stay in the U.S. in the next 12 months or are susceptible to lay-offs and determine their eligibility under the Tech Talent Strategy as an alternate solution.
  • Prepare mobility policies for employee-driven requests to transfer to Canada.
  • Consider how to strategically leverage and integrate Canada’s digital nomad scheme into talent mobility policies.
  • Remain current and attuned to Canadian new immigration policies to determine how the new programs can complement business and talent growth strategies.

For questions or assistance regarding these new programs or Canada immigration issues, contact your local Quarles attorney. The Quarles and Brady Immigration Practice will provide timely updates.

  • Timothy D'Arduini: 202-780-2641 /
  • Praveena Nallainathan: 813-384-6731 /
  • Jinly Kim: 202-372-9527 /

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