The US is now a land of contradictions. Its economy is doing well, with no signs of slowing down. Unemployment is rock bottom. And the demand for skilled labor is sky high. Yet the environment for international students looking to start their careers in the US is challenging, to say the least. The problem is political. Given the country’s current administration supporting a mantra of “Buy American, Hire American,” immigration policies have tightened, making it more difficult for international students to stay in the country after graduation.
But there’s good news. Just across the border, Canada has taken an open-arms approach, with new policies that support increased immigration and a diversified workforce. Sure, Canada has a colder climate than the US, but its economy is hot, and its hospitality is warm.
With its market-based economy and high standard of living, Canada is similar to the US. It is the largest country by landmass in North America and established its independence from Britain in 1867. While the country is fully sovereign, it remains a part of the British commonwealth and recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as its ceremonial head of state.
Here are some basic facts:
- Population: 37.6 million, with almost 82 percent living in urban areas
- Primary languages: English (59%), French (22%)
- Life expectancy: 83.4 years
- Government type: Parliamentary democracy
- Capital: Ottawa
- Largest City: Toronto, 2.7 million people
- Gross Domestic Product: $1.77 trillion (est.)
- Unemployment rate: 5.5%
- Population living in poverty: 9%
- System of measurement: Metric
A positive career climate
Like the US economy, Canada’s economy is on solid ground, supported by robust tech, manufacturing, health care, and energy industries. At the same time, the country’s existing population is aging. Economists forecast significant labor shortages, especially in the highly qualified professional and skilled trades. All this represents an opportunity for immigrant workers.
Consider that immigrants currently account for 75 percent of workforce growth, and that over the next decade, immigrants are projected to account for 100 percent of net growth in the workforce. In 2018, almost 54,000 international students became permanent residents and a record 400,000 jobs in the private sector alone were unfilled. In fact, in British Columbia, the limited population can’t keep up with the province’s booming economy, and one in 25 jobs are vacant.
The biggest opportunities for these open positions are in STEM. Health care and social assistance workers have a good shot at finding work, too.
With the US restricting the job market for international students, more universities are turning to technology and companies like Interstride to help connect their foreign-born populations with meaningful careers throughout the world, including Canada.
A welcoming culture
Canada is a significant destination for international students. More than 700,000 students enrolled in Canadian schools are from abroad, and the number is growing rapidly. It’s no wonder. The country has an excellent education system and a reputation for being safe, tolerant and non-discriminatory. In fact, a 2018 survey of international students by the Canada Bureau for International Education found that seven in 10 international students want to stay and work in the country after graduation, and six in 10 plan on pursuing permanent residency.
Satisfaction with Canada is on the rise, too. Just three years ago, the number of international students wanting permanent residency was about 50 percent. Furthermore, around 85 percent of permanent residents become citizens, one of the highest naturalization rates in the world.
Canada has long been a multicultural nation. Traditionally, Canadian national identity was a mix of English, French, and native (First Nations) cultures. Since the country’s founding, though, foreign-born Canadians from across the globe have accounted for between 15 and 20 percent of the total population. For decades, the country has sustained high levels of immigration with relatively minimal nativist backlash.
In Toronto alone, more than half of the city’s population is foreign-born. And in 2019, Canada welcomed more than 341,000 new permanent residents, a modern-era record. That’s not to say Canada is immune to discrimination. But, according to a recent poll, well more than half of Canadians belief that immigrants make the country better.
A new focus on foreign talent
While the US is becoming more insular, Canada has taken a different approach, welcoming immigrant students and workers with pro-growth policies. In 2015, the government launched an Express Entry program, streamlining the process for skilled immigrants to settle in Canada permanently. Under Express Entry, the government ranks immigration candidates according to age, education, skilled work experience, language proficiency, and a few other factors. The highest-ranking candidates are entered into an Express Pool to apply for permanent residence for themselves and their family.
In 2016, Canada tweaked Express Entry to make it even more friendly for job seekers. The government changed the ranking system so that people without an existing job offer are no longer at much of a disadvantage.
Another recent example of a pro-immigrant Canada is a new government initiative called “Building on Success: Canada’s International Education Strategy (2019-2024).” Key to the plan is the idea of recruiting foreign talent to maintain the country’s prosperity. One action identified in the plan is a strategy for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to further streamline online services and forms for people looking to work, study in, or visit the country.
Under Canadian law, people can represent themselves in immigration proceedings without an attorney. Alternatives to the Express Entry program include a Working Holiday Visa or a Student Visa. Because immigration isn’t complicated in Canada, employers expect you to handle the process on your own and have it sorted out before applying. So, if frustrations are mounting in your American job search, consider a change in latitude and expand your limits northward. In an increasingly diverse Canada, you may find your place in the world and feel right at home.
For more information, listen to our podcast episode to see how Canada can be your H-1B plan B.