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Canada’s Tech Talent Strategy: Creation of Open Work Permit for U.S. H-1B Visa Holders


On Sunday July 16th, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) opened its portal to H-1B visa holders. This initiative allowed anyone with a valid H-1B Specialty Occupation visa in the U.S. to apply for a Canadian open work permit, for up to 3 years. As expected, the stream didn’t last for long, as the intake cap of 10,000 was quickly hit, with the portal closing on July 17th at midnight.

The overwhelming response from applicants emphasizes the high demand among H-1B visa holders to remain in North America. Whether this demonstrated enthusiasm for H-1B visa holders to explore their employment opportunities in Canada will lead to additional initiatives remains to be seen, but if this past weekend’s response is any indicator, a pathway for skilled workers to enter Canada could lead to a surplus in talent migrating to the Canadian market.

Below is the original blog:

‘Canada wants top talent from around the world.’ That’s the message that was delivered this week when Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser, launched the country’s first-ever Tech Talent Strategy. Looking to expand Canada’s high-growth industries, this strategy will include new, innovative measures and much-needed improvements on already existing programs to help businesses in Canada thrive in the competitive global landscape.

Could This Benefit You?

For those in specialty occupations looking to immigrate to Canada temporarily, this new expansion includes the creation of an open work permit stream for H-1B ‘specialty occupation’ visa holders in the United States. This expansion will be of particular interest to those in the U.S. whose work visa is expiring soon and who are looking to advance their career in North America.


What is an H-1B Visa?

The H-1B nonimmigrant visa category is popular and permits employers to petition for highly educated foreign professionals to work in ‘specialty occupations’ that require at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field or the equivalent thereof.

Over the past few decades, the H-1B program has become integral to retain foreign graduates of U.S. colleges and universities, especially beneficiaries with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), including subjects in the fields of chemistry, computer and information technology science, engineering, geosciences, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physics and astronomy, social sciences (anthropology, economics, psychology and sociology), and STEM education and learning research.


Am I Eligible?

Set to launch on July 16, 2023, the Government of Canada will introduce a new pathway for current H-1B visa holders and their immediate family members (this includes spouse or common-law partner, and dependent children) to work in Canada. This will come as a much-welcomed announcement, given the high demand for H-1B visas and the issuance cap that it is subject to, especially given that the processing time is estimated to take 0-2 months.


So, What Do You Need to Know?

  1. The program applies to individuals who currently hold an H-1B visa;
  2. The program will allow H-1B visa holders to apply for an open work permit, which, if approved, will allow them to work anywhere in Canada for three years;
  3. Accompanying family members will also be eligible to apply for a study or work permit, as required; and
  4. A job offer is not required in order to apply.

It is of note that this measure will be in effect for one year, or until Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) receive 10,000 applications, and thus, highly important that those who are eligible or interested in applying take the necessary steps to ensure they don’t miss out on this promising opportunity.


Other Measures and Improvements

In addition to the previously mentioned creation of the open work permit stream for H-1B visa holders, Minister Fraser also announced the following measures and improvements:

  • The development of an Innovation Stream under the International Mobility Program, which will include employer-specific work permits for up to five years for highly skilled workers;
  • A return to the 14-day service standard for work permits under the Global Skills Strategy;
  • The creation of a STEM-specific draw for those applying under the Express Entry program; and
  • Numerous improvements to the Start-Up Visa program, including the allocation of additional spots for the program in 2023, the expansion of the work permit duration to 3 years (compared to the current 1-year duration), and the ability to apply for an open work permit (rather than the current employer-specific work permit).

With the introduction of these new measures, Canada aims to assist businesses and cross-border workers to thrive in the global landscape and enhance labour mobility in North America.


Stay tuned for the latest on this and other news from the MPC immigration team as we closely monitor updates and for any other significant changes in US and Canadian immigration!