Canada’s open work permit could become a permanent pathway to the US for many Indians

The open work permit stream that was announced by the Canadian ministry of immigration last month, targeted specifically at the US H-1B work permit visa holders, under Canada’s new tech talent strategy; was oversubscribed in less than 48 hours.

Considering that the largest number of H-1B visa holders in the US, who are eligible applicants for this scheme, are Indians, it is apparent that the typical profile of applicants is Indian nationals who are stuck in the US on long green card queues.

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The open work permit, which had been announced by Canadian minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship Sean Fraser, had unveiled a new stream, starting July 16, to allow 10,000 H-1B visa holders from the US to move to Canada with an open work permit for three years; which also extends to their family members, providing them with study or work permits. In about a day after the scheme opened on July 16, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada portal announced that it had been closed and the cap of 10,000 applications had been reached for the initiative on July 17, 2023 and applications were no longer being accepted.
A large number of applicants for the H-1B open work permit scheme are likely to be Indian employees of US companies which are looking to set up or expand their operations in Canada, feels Ajay Sharma, president of consultancy firm Abhinav Immigration Services.

“US companies setting up operations in Canada have been facing difficulties in finding the right talent. H-1B visas are limited in numbers and there’s huge uncertainty over getting green cards; so these companies are likely to be looking at the option of transferring staff members who are in the US through the open work permit scheme,” he says.
For individuals who have applied for the OWP scheme there is the option to move permanently to Canada from the US with their families since family members are also eligible for student and work visas. However, the salaries in Canada are less than the US for the same skillsets and many who receive the Canadian work permit may defer their plans to move to Canada until they find suitable jobs, feels Sharma.

“There are many Indians who are considering the long term opportunity presented by this scheme which is the pathway to apply for permanent residence in Canada under the provincial nominee through the Express Entry program,” he says. He feels that the requirement of having to live in Canada for three out of five years, under PR status, on the path to Canadian citizenship is also an advantage. “Indians who get Canadian passports have the option of moving back to the US to work on TN visas which are much easier to get than the long delays that Indian nationals face on green card queues,” he adds.
Considering the huge demand for the OWP scheme; experts feel that even if many of the successful applicants opt out, the Canadian government may reopen it to fill up the 10,000 number cap.
“This is a great initiative by the Canadian authorities to attract tech talent from the USA. The Canadian government has started this as an experiment. Given the initial success of this visa program, it could be quickly scaled up with higher volumes. However, some restrictions and refinement could be imposed to make the program more robust,” says Bitthal Khaitan, an industry expert on cloud data engineering, who has been working in the USA for nine years on an H-1B visa and is currently stuck in the green card backlog.
He, too, feels that most of the applicants who applied for the program are likely to be Indians because they are the ones who are getting most impacted with employment based green card backlogs and layoffs in the tech job market in the US.
“Brain drain from the USA to Canada will happen to some extent through this program; but the majority of the applicants may not move right away. Many would be just using this as a backup in case things don’t work out in the USA. A lot would depend on how the tech job market plays out,” says Khaitan who had plans to apply for the scheme but found that it had already closed when he tried.

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