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July 20, 2023

Canada opens new work visa pathway for H-1B Holders

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The Canadian government has opened a new programme to grant work permits to H-1B visa holder in the US
  • However, the programme was capped at 10,000 applications and that limit was reached within the first 48 hours after opening

A recent report from public policy advocacy group FWD.us provides a concise summary of the current situation for foreign graduates hoping to remain in the US to work:

“The United States has come to rely on the temporary H-1B work visa as its main—and sometimes only—high-skilled immigration policy tool…This over-reliance on the H-1B visa program creates choke points in our talent pipeline where skilled individuals either cannot move forward or simply choose to leave. Since 1997, the full H-1B visa cap has been exhausted every year prior to the end of the fiscal year…Simply put, there is a profoundly higher demand for these skilled workers than the current law is able to supply.”

In a surprising twist, the Canadian government moved to take advantage of that demand-supply gap earlier this month when it opened a new work permit pathway for H-1B visa holders.

The H-1B visa holder work permit is “meant to keep highly skilled workers in North America”, and is open to anyone with a valid H-1B visa already living in the US.

The new programme provides successful applicants with an open work permit for up to three years.

An accompanying government statement explains that, “If your passport expires in less than three years, your work permit will expire at the same time as your passport. You can’t get an extension under this initiative, but you may be able to get one under another programme.”

At the time it was first announced, the H-1B visa holder work permit was introduced as a temporary policy that would be in place for one year, or until 10,000 applications were received (whichever came first).

In a rather vivid illustration of the pent-up demand for work visas in the US, that 10,000-application threshold was reached in the first 48 hours after the programme launched.

“This rapid uptake underscores the high demand among U.S. H-1B visa holders for the opportunity to work and live in Canada,” reported The Hindustan Times. “The popularity of the Open Work Permit stream became evident when it reached its maximum capacity within an astonishingly short timeframe.”

As a result, the H-1B visa holder work permit programme is now closed to further applications for the time being. However, the programme has a somewhat experimental, or even “pilot programme”, feel to it. And no doubt policy makers in both Canada and the US, to say nothing of foreign graduates and employers, will be thinking carefully about any other such interactions between Canadian and American visa policy going forward.

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