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How Canada can compete with U.S. in attracting Russian talent

Friday, May 13, 2022 @ 8:59 AM | By Daniel Lee


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Daniel Lee
U.S. President Joe Biden recently asked Congress to modify the Immigration and Nationality Act, in order to temporarily allow Russians into the United States without an employer sponsor if they have a master’ or doctorate degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field. The modification of the Act, for a temporary period of four years, would streamline a pathway for Russians to immigrate to the U.S. without requiring a sponsor from an employer prior to applying for an employment-based visa.

This is a way to hurt Russia by poaching their most gifted technical people. In 1992, the Soviet Scientists Immigration Act was enacted to assist about 450 Soviet scientists to immigrate to the U.S. without a sponsoring employer. This article will discuss how Canada can compete with the U.S. in attracting Russia’s talent in the STEM field.

The U.S. and Canada have two very different immigration systems to attract skilled workers, including foreign talents in the STEM field, to immigrate to their respective country as permanent residents. The U.S. uses the H-1B visa to hire foreign nationals with theoretical or technical knowledge in a specialty occupation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through submitting H-1B visa petitions. The H-1B visa uses a lottery system with an annual cap of about 140,000. This means the chance that a foreign national will receive a spot to submit a H-1B visa is often very low due to the high demand.

With Canada, foreign talents in the STEM field could immigrate as a permanent resident through Express Entry. Express Entry is a case management system that consists of different economic immigration programs, such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program and Canadian Experience Class. For Express Entry, a job offer from a Canadian employer is not mandatory. However, having a job offer from a Canadian employer will increase the foreign national’s chance in receiving an invitation to apply for permanent residency under Express Entry. This is because Express Entry is a points-based system and candidates in the Express Entry pool with the highest points may receive an invitation to apply for permanent residency.

The advantage of Express Entry is the permanent resident applications are usually processed within about six months. Whereas in the U.S., the permanent resident applications could take many years depending on the foreign national’s country of citizenship and priority date. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada temporarily paused the Federal Skilled Worker Program and Canadian Experience Class. The government recently announced that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will resume Federal Skilled Worker Program and Canadian Experience Class invitations in early July 2022.

In Canada, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship may use s. 25.2 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to introduce temporary public policies to facilitate the granting of temporary residence or permanent residence for foreign nationals without amending the IRPA. For example, in 2021 the government of Canada introduced a temporary public policy for Hong Kong residents who graduated from post-secondary education within the past five years to apply for an open work permit for up to three years. Once the Hong Kong residents worked in Canada for one year they could apply for permanent residency, subject to them meeting the eligibility requirements in the permanent residence pathways for the Hong Kong residents’ stream.

Further, in 2022 Canada used s. 25.2 of the IRPA to introduce a temporary public policy for citizens of Ukraine who are fleeing the invasion from Russia. Under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel category, citizens of Ukraine can temporarily work in Canada for up to three years. Currently, Canada has not provided any information on whether there will be a special pathway for Ukrainians to immigrate to Canadas as permanent residents by the end of their three-year work permit term. Canada has the legislative authority to implement a temporary public policy under the IRPA to attract Russians into Canada without an employer sponsor if they have a master of arts or doctorate degree in the STEM field.

Canada already has a competitive immigration system that attracts global talents in the STEM field with Express Entry, where foreign nationals can immigrate to Canada as permanent residents in about six months without an employer sponsor. When it is justified to do so, Canada has the legislative authority under the IRPA to create temporary public policies, such as offering temporary open work permits for Hong Kong residents and citizens of Ukraine, without amending the current Act.

Daniel Lee is a corporate immigration lawyer at Fasken. His practice focuses on corporate immigration law and employer immigration compliance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee advises his clients on the frequent changes in immigration laws, including the Quarantine Act and travel exemptions.

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