Problems with immigration policy in the U.S. are creating what should be a golden opportunity for Canada, dropped in our lap. The question is, will Canada’s policy leaders recognize this gift for what it is?
Sunday’s New York Times story on Silicon Valley’s need for overseas talent featured Google’s Sanjay Mavinkurve, who can only sit with his co-workers in Mountain View, California twice a month, while videoconferencing the rest of the time… from his office in Toronto! The Indian-born, Harvard-educated Mavinkurve is one of tens of thousands of highly-sought-after technology specialists whose potential careers in the US are being frustrated by US immigration restrictions.
The Times article paints a picture of a polarized situation in the U.S. On the one hand, companies like Google are spending millions on immigration lawyers, in order to get talented engineers like Mavinkurve into the US. “If a foreign-born engineer doesn’t come to Google, there is a very good chance that individual will return to India to compete against us,” says Pablo Chavez, Google’s senior policy counsel. On the other hand, legislators like Republican Senator Jeff Sessions insist that if such workers are allowed to enter the U.S., they would return to their countries to share what they have learned. It’s hard to find two views more diametrically opposed!
For Sanjay Mavinkurve, the visa restrictions may change his career arc. “If America will not have him, he might have to stay in Canada,” according to the Times article. U of T Professor Richard Florida, speaking on a TVO panel in Waterloo, Ontario, sees a big window of opportunity here for Canada. He said that in the past, “a lot of the entrepreneurial energy in North America got focused in several places in the U.S. Now’s the opportunity to bring them north!”
Cultural tolerance in Canada
Most Canadians like to think that we have a broader perspective on immigration than Americans. According to Florida, Canada’s cultural tolerance is a key to its economic success. “Canada opened its borders, and it’s kept its borders open. 50% of the Silicon Valley companies were founded by a foreign-born person… These people can’t get into the United States any more, for a whole variety of reasons. So – why not give them a go here?”
As a Realtor, I know how much real estate values in the GTA have benefited from immigration. And according to economic visionaries like Richard Florida and RIM co-founder Jim Balsillie, it’s clear that Canada’s future success lies in bringing in all the talent we can find. You’d think that Canada’s Minister of Science and Technology would be leading the charge to increase the country’s strength in high-tech fields. Strange, then, that the Minister, Gary Goodyear, has recently been engaged in shouting matches with scientists and academics. Dr. Andrew Weaver, Canada Research Chair at the University of Victoria, warns that the federal government’s recent budget cuts will actually create an anti-stimulus in the high-tech field. He foresees a brain drain in 2010, forcing many high-tech researchers in Canada to find jobs outside the country.
Should it be a stretch to link economic policy with immigration policy? Surely the two are part and parcel of the same reality, seen through different lenses. It would be comforting to have our policy leaders show that they understand, on some level, the effects of their actions.