On July 18, 2023, Canada’s newly announced program offering open work permits to holders of U.S. H-1B visas closed after it reached the maximum number of applicants – less than two days after its launch. Under the Canadian government’s “Tech Talent Strategy,” ten thousand open work permits have been made available to foreign nationals who hold H-1B specialty occupation visas from the United States. The program is intended to improve the mobility of high-tech talent in North America by expanding the options for H-1B holders facing long waits for U.S. permanent residency (i.e., green cards). While the popularity of Canada’s program was widely expected, the speed with which the 10,000-permit limit was reached underscores the high demand for labor mobility in North America among employers and employees alike.
Background: Canada’s Tech Talent Strategy
On June 27, 2023, the Canadian government announced a new “Tech Talent Strategy” aimed at increasing the country’s attractiveness to global talent. Central to the government’s strategy is a program that offers three-year open work permits to foreign nationals who hold H-1B specialty occupation visas in the United States. Individuals receiving open work permits are able to work for almost any employer in Canada. Spouses of U.S. H-1B visa holders are also eligible for work authorization in Canada, and children are eligible for study permits. The Tech Talent Strategy also includes provisions that promote Canada as a destination for digital nomads, improve the allocation of visas to startup companies, and streamline work permit processes. The open work permit program for H-1B visa holders went into effect on July 16, 2023, and was intended to be open for one year or until 10,000 applications were received, whichever was sooner.
The H-1B is a U.S. specialty occupation visa for positions that require at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in a particular field. Visa holders are limited to six years in H‑1B status, although they can extend that timeframe if they meet specific milestones in the U.S. permanent residency (green card) process. The possibility of obtaining an open work permit in Canada is significant for foreign workers in the United States who are approaching the six-year H-1B maximum and who are not eligible for further extensions. Rather than return to their home countries, the Tech Talent Strategy provides these foreign workers with a pathway to work in Canada and thus remain in North America, potentially affording their U.S. employers more time to complete the lengthy green card process.
Given the speed with which the program closed, the Canadian government is reportedly considering reopening the program if the limit of 10,000 work permits is not ultimately exhausted by the existing applications, or if selected applicants do not relocate to Canada.
U.S. Conducts Second H-1B Lottery for FY2024
On July 27, 2023, just days after Canada’s open work permit program closed, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it was conducting a second H-1B lottery for FY2024 after the statutory cap of 85,000 visas was not met by the first lottery earlier this year. As demand for H-1B visas routinely exceeds supply, employers seeking to hire foreign workers through the H-1B visa program must register prospective H-1B employees on a government website. On a predetermined date, USCIS conducts a randomized lottery to select a limited number of registrations that are then eligible to submit a full petition to the government. If the agency determines that – based on the selections in the first round and the number of petitions received – the statutory cap will not be met, it has discretion to conduct additional lotteries to select more registrations. The need for the second H-1B lottery for FY2024 comes after a historically low selection rate in the first lottery earlier this year. The second lottery also follows the announcement of fraud investigations examining whether some employers conspired to submit duplicate registrations in order to maximize their employees’ chances in the H-1B lottery.
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