OTTAWA: The federal Liberals began work on a new immigration program to attract highly skilled labour before U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
But what they'll be watching for now is whether the planned June launch of their Global Talent Stream program could be a way to benefit from what Trump has done in his tenure so far.
The president added more uncertainty to the future of U.S. immigration policy this week, ordering a review of the American H-1B visa program, which he argues allows tech companies to avoid hiring American workers in favour of cheaper international ones.
The review bodes well for Canada, said Robert Watson, president of Information Technology Association of Canada.
``Even if the executive order is just to do a review of it, it becomes tone from the top,'' he said.
``Companies have to start looking elsewhere and ensure there's something better to do.''
American technology firms argue the H-1B program is needed because it encourages students to stay in the U.S. after getting degrees in high-tech specialties _ and because companies can't always find enough American workers with the skills they need.
The fact the H-1B visa has an annual cap on applications and the winners are chosen by lottery has always made it a problematic program, said Bill MacGregor, head of Gowling WLG's immigration law practice based in Waterloo, Ont.
``Already there's a recognition in tech companies that they might, on a practical matter, need an alternative because of this uncertainty and this (review) just adds to it,'' he said.
``And Canada is generally well positioned.''
That position could get a boost from the planned June rollout of the new Global Talent Stream program.
Canadian firms have long complained they can't find the talent and get them here fast enough to help develop the tech sector.
An overhaul of the economic immigration program by the previous Conservative government and the introduction of a system known as Express Entry was supposed to help make it easier. But that program had a six-month lag time and tech firms don't want to wait that long.
The Global Talent Stream system aims to process work permits for ``highly skilled talent'' in two weeks.
For Canadian tech firms, it is a welcome development, but in the current context of Trump it could have broader benefits, MacGregor said.
``If (the government) can make the system more transparent and, to some extent more efficient, then that's also something that companies when choosing locations to build out facilities take into consideration,'' MacGregor said.
``So that does help Canada competing for those types of situations.''
Full details around how the program will work have yet to be released.
Trump's complaints about against foreign workers driving down pay for Americans and stealing their jobs shouldn't sound unfamiliar in Canada.
The existing temporary foreign worker program here has faced those criticisms for years.
In 2013, controversy erupted after Canadian information technology workers at RBC complained they were being replaced by foreign workers, some of whom were being brought to Canada for training under the temporary foreign workers program. The outcry prompted more digging into who exactly was hiring temporary workers and why, and the system has since been overhauled and tweaked several times.
Next month, the auditor general is expected to issue a report into how well the system is working.
``What we need to do, in my view, to fix these issues is to adopt the principle and practice the principle, that if you're good enough to work, you're good enough to stay and the pathway to permanency is absolutely essential,'' said NDP Immigration critic Jenny Kwan.
``And right now our immigration policy is failing in that regard.''