International business expansion is often driven by a company’s need to attract and retain top talent.
Companies want to go where they can tap into a high concentration of skilled talent and work-ready graduates who can fuel innovation and growth. Sometimes that’s in a different country.
They might also want to capitalize on the benefits of operating in a new location, such as new customers, cost efficiencies or improved quality of life – and they want to make sure they can re-locate existing leaders and staff to the new location with ease.
So, how can they achieve these goals? By establishing a global talent hub.
Canadian Immigration as a Global Talent Strategy
In Episode 4 of LANDED, Pavan Dhillon, immigration law expert and Principal Attorney & Founder of Dhillon Immigration Law, shares valuable insights into Canadian business immigration programs and offers guidance for businesses considering Canada for their global talent hub.
Are you exploring immigration as a global talent strategy? Get the full scoop from Pavan as she discusses:
- Challenges with US immigration programs like H-1B
- How companies can access the Global Talent Stream
- How the Intra-Company Transfer Program works
- The benefits of moving talent to Canada
- Steps to increase your immigration success
Pavan’s advice on Canadian business immigration will help you understand your options and what steps you can take to get started.
After hearing Pavan speak about how businesses are exploring immigration as a talent strategy, we asked Tony LaMantia, President & CEO of Waterloo EDC, to weigh in. Because Waterloo EDC is an official referral partner, Tony is well-versed in the complexities of the business immigration process.
In this mini episode of LANDED, Tony shares the stories of two companies that used Canadian immigration programs when expanding to Waterloo and emphasizes why immigration is becoming a key strategy for business growth.
Listen, learn and propel your business forward
LANDED isn’t just a podcast – it’s your exclusive guide to navigating international business expansion, from start to finish and beyond.
With each episode, you’ll gain insider knowledge, strategic advice and firsthand accounts from industry leaders who have successfully taken their businesses to new heights on a global scale.
Ready to start your international expansion journey? Tune in to LANDED on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music or at waterlooedc.ca/podcast. Don’t miss out on the valuable insights – subscribe today!
Episode 4 Transcript
All right, so thank you so much for joining us today. I think the best place to start is just telling us about your role and how you help growing businesses navigate the Canadian immigration process.
Thank you for having me. I’m a Canadian immigration attorney originally based in San Francisco and now moved to Seattle, Washington. I work predominantly with companies moving into Canada to set up offices for the first time and transfer their employees or hire employees from all over the world to move to Canada. So, my niche practice is really focusing on helping companies and market extension to Canada.
All right, and so, I’m sure many of your clients are US based and I’m sure we’ve all heard about US immigration causing frustration and leading to companies to explore options in Canada. What do you hear from some of these companies as the main challenges they’re facing or the main issues they face in the American immigration system?
It’s interesting, when I first moved to the US in 2012, a lot of the work that I had was predominantly cross border immigration. So, a lot of people moving back and forth but not really relocating. And then following a lot of significant changes in US immigration policy around 2017, we saw a restriction in US immigration policies. Essentially, we saw policies such as buy American, hire American and extreme vetting which led to an increase in denials and that, at the same time, simultaneously, the Canadian immigration policies, several were rolled out that really helped increase immigration of high skilled workers and global talent into Canada.
And so, what we saw was a change from the cross-border immigration to relocation of key individuals into Canada and building teams around them. But interestingly enough, in the last four or five years, we’ve seen entire teams move to Canada, so the progression has really been directly related to the difficulties that American companies are facing in bringing in global talent or retaining global talent in Canada. And so, we’ve seen this switch from cross-border movement to entire teams relocating, as well as Canadian immigration being used as an attraction tool to attract the best and the brightest from the United States, and globally, to Canada.
A lot of this stems from issues with H-1B visa, which is essentially oversubscribed. We have about 65,000 regular quota and then we have 20,000 for H-1B applicants with masters. But the number of applicants and registrants now is over 750,000 of eligible registrations, so it is one of those situations where you just have way too many people applying for a very limited number and if these individuals aren’t from countries where there aren’t effective alternatives, this really leads to no real option in the long term.
So, we have the H-1B issue. The other issue is that unlike Canada, in the US, there’s an OPT work permit that is for students who graduate, but the duration after they have that open work permit, there’s not many options for them beyond the H-1B. And so, the H-1B is an important central visa category in the United States for global talent. And it’s just not working at the moment.
If you’re a company a tech company in California, and you have people on H-1B visas, it’s possible that they won’t get renewed as well. Correct? Like that’s part of it, it leads to greater uncertainty.
There’s a limit to the H-1B which is six years. Once you have a permanent residence application pending though, then you can extend it. The issue though, that brings up another major issue that we’re facing in the US for US immigration, which is that green card holders to obtain a green card in the United States, it’s based on per country quotas. And so populous countries like India and China are waiting decades for their turn to become permanent residents and that causes a lot of uncertainty and stress both for the applicants and for the companies because there’s a significant amount of stress associated with not having a secure status in the country where you want to buy a home, you want your kids to go to school. So, it is a very stressful experience. Also bringing in new people, so there’s the people who are already in the US, the people who want to come to the United States from other locations.
Yeah. And so if you were if you’re a company in somewhere like, so I understand because I’m far from an expert on this, if you’re a company in California and you have people on H-1B visas and you’re worried that eventually will not be renewed or that you might look to somewhere like Canada because there’s an opportunity to move full teams or move numerous people who are fantastic workers, fantastic team members, but they might not be able to stick around in the United States.
Exactly. There’s a huge impetus to move teams and individuals to Canada and essentially to retain that talent to make sure that there was a central project that can move forward. But it’s also, as I was saying earlier, it’s also a talent retention tool, but an acquisition tool now as well. I hear from a lot of smaller companies and not the Googles and the Amazons of the world, but well funded, excellent companies that are having a hard time competing for talent in the Bay Area just based on salaries and cost of living and things like that. And instead, they’re offering an alternative in Canada for a greater quality of life as well.
Alright so, we’ve talked a little bit about the challenges. So, let’s talk about some solutions. So, can you start by telling me a little bit what the Global Talent Stream is and how companies access it?
Sure, the Global Talent Stream is a labour market impact assessment-based work permit. It doesn’t require a test of the labour market, but it does require a labour market benefit plan, but it has been wildly successful as a program. It is a fast-track method to bring high skilled talent to Canada. Would you like me to talk about the eligibility requirements a little bit?
Yeah, maybe just a little bit just so anyone listening can know whether it’s something that might work for them?
Sure. So, the eligibility requirements are essentially that, the Global Talent Stream is a two-stage process. The first stage requires the company to go through an assessment of the actual position that’s being sponsored. The second stage is the applicant’s application for the work permit. The first stage really focuses on the company so there’s a business legitimacy component that needs to be completed. But there’s also a requirement to hire someone on a list of occupations under Category B, which mainly are STEM occupations. So, this is predominantly driven towards STEM positions. There is a prevailing wage that’s required, and the company needs to show that they have a need for this position in Canada.
This is actually a program that we have a fair amount of experience with. I know one of the stories that I’ve heard directly is a gaming company that was setting up shop here so they were just kind of starting up and two of their founders were not Canadian citizens – they were both working in the United States – and they, it was very fast tracked in their case. By the time they submitted the paperwork, it was only a matter of weeks before they had the work visas issued, which is incredible. They arrived at Toronto Pearson Airport, walked in and said, “Ok, we’re here!” and were able to start working in Canada.
Yeah, I think the reason it’s such a popular program is because it is very fast but there’s no advertising that’s required for the position. And instead, these are considered high demand occupations that Canada has identified as there’s a need in the global labour market for these positions and they purposely have fast tracked it. And the beauty of the program is that it has a very high success rate, and a lot of the officers that you deal with at the first stage, because there is this labour market benefits plan that you need to submit, and this is essentially perfect for high growth companies that are moving into Canada.
So, we have, you know, if you’re planning to hire, if you are investing in skills and training in Canada, these types of things will help form the basis of that labour market benefits plan. But my clients will often remark after the interview is over that this is one of the easiest applications because they felt that the officer was trying to help them, and it was very solution driven. So, it wasn’t very scary scenario which you may anticipate typically from an immigration agency, actually from the SDC, Service Canada. So, we prepped the clients in advance and they’re always a bit nervous but then afterwards, they’ll always remark how streamlined the entire process has been and easy to obtain the work permits.
So, earlier you spoke about companies bringing entire teams to Canada. I imagine that’s maybe part of what the Intra-Company Transfer Program is all about. So maybe you can tell me a bit about that, hopefully I’ve guessed right.
Yeah, that is very true. Usually, the companies need to be – in terms of eligibility requirements for the Intra-Company Transfer – you need to have two companies that are related, and they need to employ someone in either a senior managerial or specialized knowledge capacity outside the country for at least one year in the last three years. Those identified individuals will then transfer to Canada in a similar position. And for new companies, what’s interesting is that those workers are only limited to one year. So, the Global Talent Stream application for new companies will usually use that in the beginning because you get a three-year work permit versus just a one year, and the business legitimacy requirements are pretty similar. So, Intra-Company Transfer’s an amazing program though. It’s one that we use. We’ll actually look to that first before we look to the Global Talent Stream. The requirements are less onerous as long as we have someone that qualifies. So, if someone is working already, for that company outside the country, the company sets up an office in Canada and is willing to transfer those individuals and those teams, this is a great opportunity to do so, but for new companies, the real opportunity is with the Global Talent Stream for the first three years.
Are there any industries or types of companies, because you’ve already kind of touched on this about high-growth companies, that just have an easier time with the immigration process or are a better fit for some of these? Or is it something that every company should be looking at?
For the Global Talent Stream, there are two categories that are available. One is Category A and the other is Category B. We discussed Category B which is the global talent list that’s predominantly for tech companies and STEM occupations. But Category A is geared towards unique and specialized talent, so we have leveraged that in the past for positions that are not tech necessarily, so that is something we use still, predominantly for tech companies and the Global Talent Stream. The Intra-Company Transfer though, we’ve used for every single type of industry out there, not just tech. So, we’ve used it for manufacturing, for management consulting or IT consulting, as well health, biotech, you name it. There’s a significant array of companies that can leverage those programs.
Another program that we haven’t touched on yet is under the various free trade agreements. Canada has a number of free trade agreements, and there are intra-company transfers that fall under that category, but there’s also professional occupations. And so, if the individual is a citizen of one of those countries that has entered into this free trade agreement with Canada, they’ll be able to potentially also leverage that work permit category. So, we usually look at an individual’s citizenship, then we look at the position, and then we’ll look to see whether they’re currently employed or not. And from there, we’re able to really craft a strategy with the company to understand what are the company’s long-term needs and short-term needs? And what’s the best most effective way to meet them with the least amount of paperwork and burden on the company.
Right. So, if a company is looking to pursue a course that means, you know, tapping into immigration programs, what are some common pitfalls that they might want to avoid or issues they might run into through the immigration process that they could avoid by talking to someone like you or just being prepared a certain way?
I think that because there’s so much attention around the Global Talent Stream and how fast it is, a lot of companies will reach out to me and they’ll say, ‘We want to do a Global Talent Stream application’ immediately off the bat, like right off the bat, but we’ll look to see what their long term and short term goals are to make sure that that’s the right approach to take. So, I think doing research, or just generally having a little bit more information about the process in general, is incredibly helpful. So, we always start our consultations with understanding what the client’s issues are, what they’re facing, what solutions they need, and then we work backwards with them to go through the various options.
We may actually end up still using the Global Talent Stream so it’s not that it’s not a good option. It’s just that we want to make sure that we’re really weighing all the options and also the for the company’s perspective, they need to really understand what the compliance requirements are after those applications are approved and so we’ll walk through that as well. I think one of the biggest pitfalls, like I’ve worked with companies that have moved people into Canada in a month, from opening the company to doing everything within a month. And then I’ve worked with companies that are at the 10-month mark and still kind of struggling along and I think a lot of it stems from really understanding that there are a number of different considerations apart from immigration. So, there’s corporate law, employment law, tax, but really having a uniform strategy is really essential, because you want to make sure that everyone is moving forward at the right pace.
And so, we started to work with other law firms and providers to provide a holistic experience, because it does really make a difference to have an approach where there’s a fundamental understanding of what is needed for each one of these factors to move forward because what will happen is we’ll get to a specific point and then we’ll stop, and then there’s a lot of stop-go, stop-go, stop-go and to avoid that, the best way is to really have an understanding from the beginning of all of the different factors to take into account before moving into a new country and starting the market expansion process. So, I’ll have companies that will reach out to me in the beginning, I’ll bring in or introduce them to individuals or work with organizations like Waterloo EDC to really help to bring in the right experts to move the process forward.
I asked a question a few minutes ago that I’m not 100% sure if I understood the answer, so I’m going to go backwards a little bit if that’s okay. If a company came to you and said that they wanted to move a whole team to Canada, what approach is taken in that case? Is there a way to move the full team as part of one application or is it something that’s still broken down on an individual basis?
So, you do break it down on an individual basis. And from the individual basis, we will look to see what are the short term and long term objectives of the company. They may want to move a team but maybe only part of the team needs to be permanently residing there. And so, we look at it. Both options may work. Intra-Company Transfer seems like the natural fit because they’re most likely already employed by that company outside of Canada and so it’s a great option for established companies. For new companies, the issue is really that they will only receive a one-year work permit for anyone that is coming in under that program. And then after that one year, the extension process requires them to show whether the business plan details that they provided were actually achieved. So, did they obtain the physical location? Did they hire in Canada? What is their long-term objective in Canada for growth that needs to be part of that application? The business plan is part of both applications for new companies and so we’ll look to the Intra-Company Transfer, but we’ll also consider the Global Talent Stream if they fall under one of the positions that we were referring to. So, if they’re STEM occupations, then we’ll also look to the Global Talent Stream.
There’s not really, a new company comes to us, and we say immediately, this is going to be the approach. It’s not really off-the-shelf advice that we give. It’s really based on what those long-term goals are, what the company’s capacity is for investment, immediately or more longer term. And then we’ll look to see what the best approach is based on that. So, both the Intra-Company Transfer and the Global Talent Stream are great options for moving teams to Canada. We’ve used one or the other and we’ve used a combination as well, depending on how quickly the team needs to move.
Super helpful. Thank you for humoring my question. So, if you had to encapsulate the benefits of bringing employees to Canada versus hiring locally in an expansion location. So, if a company was coming to Waterloo, what are the benefits of tapping into these programs to either bring a team or bring individuals into Canada versus just hiring team members here in Waterloo?
So, I think that, essentially, the core team will almost always come from outside of the country because they want to bring someone into the country who is well versed in the company’s protocols, methodologies, culture, and to really cultivate that culture. But most of the companies that we work with will bring in a core team, but then really focus on hiring locally, especially for Waterloo. They’re really interested in co-op programs that are local to really tap into the local talent that is readily available in Waterloo. And also, the unique part of the culture for Waterloo is that you do have, you want a company to have some established presence there first before they can start to attract that talent.
That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned Waterloo EDC a little bit earlier. How do you work with partner agencies like Waterloo EDC, in terms of helping companies undergoing expansion?
So, I think that one of the exciting things for me to learn about six or seven years ago was that this service existed. At first, I wasn’t even aware of it. And what I think has been really invaluable is that local market insight. We can read all about the great statistics about Waterloo, the concentration of tech workers, how it’s one of the top-20 tech markets in North America, but having someone on the ground that can help provide information that is truly relevant based on their internal experience working with companies moving into Canada and helping them by providing the resources they need on the ground, that has been invaluable to my clients. They’re always excited and I always received a lot of great feedback from those introductions. Also, I think that locally, I mean, my network is mainly in the Bay Area, but also in Canada. It’s spread out more and so, having someone on the ground that can provide local expertise is really critical to a company that’s growing, and I was saying earlier, the companies that take one or two months versus companies that take ten to twelve will really tap into the resources of partner agencies like Waterloo EDC.
Without leaping into a full ad right now, that’s generally how we sell our services which are free to people that are tapping into them. It’s being able to say, alright, you want to expand here. We can find someone who can help you with immigration who really knows their stuff. We can find someone locally who can tell you where you can lease space, if you need space. We can tell you how to tap into the university recruitment program. So, all of those kinds of opportunities and it’s always great to have incredible partners like yourself because we know that we’re putting our clients into good hands and I think vice versa, when you’re talking to someone, you’re able to come to us and trust us.
The other thing is that services are confidential, as well, which many companies, when I first try to make the introduction, they’re like, ‘Oh wait, what does this entail? from our perspective? What are we committing to by having these discussions? I’m like, ‘There’s no commitment and it’s actually free, confidential information, and you’re getting the best information locally that you can get.’ I mean, you can’t really beat that because you have experience working with the providers that you introduced them to and that feedback that you received. So, there’s a lot more certainty than if a company were to just show up and look around. This is really white-glove service.
Exactly, yes, it would be tough. Even in a place as welcoming as Waterloo, it would be tough to just show up out of the blue and have a really good feel for where everything is and who you should be talking to. So, I think it’s a service we’re really happy to provide. As we kind of wrap up a little bit, to summarize some of what we’ve been talking about, what advice would you give to companies to ensure a smooth and successful integration process?
I think it’s really important to step back, take a look and really understand what your long-term objectives are in Canada. If you’re making this type of investment in resources, and allocation of resources, then it’s really important to understand the long-term objective and have a clear business plan as to what you are willing to do at this stage and what the future holds. It doesn’t have to be perfect, either.
So, I think there are two types of companies: the ones that are they want everything to be perfect in advance and then there are the others that will jump into things. I think either approach can work as long as the objectives are clear upfront. You have an idea of what the investment will be and what how many people you want to bring from an immigration standpoint, of course, how many people you want to bring into the country, how many you want to hire locally, and really have a kind of a true business plan in mind. And once you have that, that’s a good foundation. The next step is moving forward, connecting with the right people and making sure that all of those facets that we discussed earlier, employment law, corporate, tax, immigration, recruiting, all of those are really dealt with in advance and there are important discussions to have at the beginning to do that type of research and to have a real understanding of what the process is and the pros and cons of each of them.
Any repeat listeners to this podcast, I think you’ll start to hear a theme because we’ve already heard from the CEO of Turntide Technologies talking about having a plan and knowing where everything is going and knowing what you want to see in the future. We’ve spoken to an executive recruiter talking about that from a talent side of things. Who would you pick to lead your office if you’re hiring locally? You know, how do you build that that office in a place like Waterloo from the ground up? But again, she repeatedly said, ‘Have an idea of where this is going.’ You can’t just jump right in and say all right, we just want this. You know, where do you want this to be three years from now, five years from now? You know, not just focusing on the on the here and now.
That’s why one of the things that we do during our consultations is really have like a roadmap of consideration. So, these are some of the things you should think of right from the beginning and start moving through these. And then we’ll periodically check back in to make sure things are progressing. It does make a difference.
It does. So where can our listeners find more information or contact you to learn more about your services?
I’m fairly active myself on LinkedIn and so, I post a lot on LinkedIn about Canadian immigration updates, but generally the best way to reach out is by email which is email@example.com.
Excellent. We’ll put a link to your LinkedIn page in the description for this episode and we’ll post on social media as well just so everyone can find you nice and easily. Thank you so much for joining us today.
My pleasure. Thank you
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