Why now is the time for Canadian startups to hire internationally

“The more tech talent we can attract, the better it will be for the country.”

While Canadians are highly educated and some of the best software engineers in the world, our global labour force size ranks a mere 32nd, with around 20 million people. In contrast, the US is around ten times that figure.

“They want to feel safe that they can stay in this country,” said Djamalova.

In short, Canada needs more talent to build a thriving tech ecosystem. That’s where hiring internationally can come in handy. Whether by adding remote employees or helping them relocate to Canada, accessing global talent can help fill the widening talent gap we face as Canada’s tech ambitions get bigger.

Speaking with BetaKit, Feruza Djamalova, the co-founder of Sobirovs Law Firm, a boutique business immigration law firm based in Toronto, shared her insights on why hiring foreign talent is valuable for Canada, the obstacles Canadian employers should be aware of, and when startups should manage the process in house versus seeking outside counsel.

Canada’s global moment

Canada’s talent challenges start with a positive note: Canadian tech startups, and the hubs where many Canadian startups reside, are receiving more funding from governments at all levels in Canada and VCs globally. However, this has only compounded the talent crunch as that capital is most often used to scale teams. Further, with remote work exploding, many Canadians are being lured away by foreign firms to work remotely from Canada. As a result, Canadian tech companies are struggling to find and retain needed talent.

“Talent is now very global and mobile,” said Djamalova. “It’s everywhere. It’s not concentrated in one country.”

Unfortunately, this problem isn’t going to fix itself. Djamalova said as technology begins to permeate every industry, demand for technical talent has increased rapidly. She added that while Canadian universities are large and produce high-quality tech talent, “it’s not sufficient, and they all need training.” As a result, Canadian companies are in a dire shortage of talent, which hiring foreign workers can help solve.

But there’s even more to it. Canada has always been a small labour market, relatively speaking, and there has been stiff competition for top technical talent over the past two decades, if not longer. What’s happening now is a geopolitical shift due to the COVID-19 pandemic that both puts Canada in an enviable position and amplifies its shortcomings.

Traditional migration patterns in the last century saw people looking for opportunities in the EU, UK, and USA. However, Djamalova claimed those tides are changing due to political and immigration policy changes in those countries, combined with Canada’s more streamlined and accepting policies. For example, Djamalova said it takes approximately seven years of precarious work visas to apply for permanent residency in the US. In Canada, the timeline is closer to three years for permanent residency, with an easier path to citizenship after that. There are also new opportunities for Canadian firms wishing to hire digital nomads, something the government is looking to support with policy changes.

Building a soft landing pad

Djamalova said that hiring tech internationally is typically done through one of two programs: the Global Talent Stream or the Start-up Visa Program. However, she expressed concern that these programs are not streamlined or easy enough for companies to leverage quickly, even as changes have come into effect, such as extending the Global Talent Stream visa from two to three years.

That said, navigating the intricacies of government programs is not the end of the road for employers. If they want to truly make foreign talent feel welcome—and by extension, productive and loyal—companies need to tackle a variety of considerations:

Family: Helping facilitate spousal work visas (which Djamalova said are typically automatically included when a high-skilled person gets a work visa but still require paperwork). Depending on family circumstances, companies may also need to help facilitate schooling for the individual’s kids.

Administrative support: Helping new immigrants set up bank accounts, social insurance numbers, health cards, and other small essentials to live successfully in Canada.

Mental safety: Immigration is a huge commitment, so Djamalova said a big thing companies can do is assist in showing new employees a clear path for their future. This may include conversations about a path toward permanent residency, citizenship, or buying a house.

“They want to feel safe that they can stay in this country,” said Djamalova.

Immigration training: Djamalova noted that a large number of people come to Canada unsure of the full terms of their work visa. For example, many believe they can job hop, which often isn’t the case. She recommended that companies give basic training to new employees on their legal status so they are fully aware. She also noted this could be done by outside legal counsel if you don’t have an expert in-house.

Welcome to Canada: Djamalova highlighted two key things that many new immigrants don’t understand about Canada: how high taxes can be and the realities of suburban living if your company offices aren’t in a major city’s downtown core.

When to get (legal) help

Lawyers are a necessity in the immigration process, but the question is whether to have someone in-house or hire a third-party firm.

When choosing a lawyer, Djamalova said she noticed that companies with significant volume (five to ten-plus international hires per year) might opt to have an in-house lawyer on staff to process paperwork. Companies with lower volume needs may find cost savings and best practice efficiencies by using outside counsel. She added that many law firms also offer concierge services such as soft-landing programs or even connections to recruiters to help companies source talent in the first place, which could be valuable depending on a company’s needs.

Regardless of which legal path companies take, hiring foreign talent is still a valuable investment. Done right, it not only provides great value for the individual but also for Canada as a whole.

“The more tech talent we can attract, the better it will be for the country,” said Djamalova.


Learn more about hiring foreign talent, and see if it’s the right move for your business!


Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur and writer passionate about the people behind tech. He's interviewed over 100 entrepreneurs on topics like management, scaling, diversity and inclusion, and sharing their personal stories. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios or send an email to stefan.palios@gmail.com.

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