Updated Mar 21, 2018

The North American battle for Silicon Valley’s foreign talent

Photo: Greg Baker / AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration has threatened to cut back on employment-based immigration and end the DACA program. Meanwhile, the U.S.'s neighbors to the north and south are dueling to attract Silicon Valley's foreign talent who feel unwelcome under Trump.

Why it matters: Everyone wants a piece of Silicon Valley. With tech companies under increasing political and legal pressure to help their employees who could be targeted by changing immigration policies, Mexico and Canada's proximity to some U.S. tech hubs could pay off.

Our thought bubble: Advocates for foreign tech workers will argue Trump's policies are making it harder for the U.S. to recruit the best and the brightest. So far, at least, the immigration crackdown hasn't scared away a significant number of talented tech workers, but Mexico and Canada are ready to be the backup plan.

Canada

Last year, Canada announced a new tech visa with faster processing times.

  • We reported last year that numerous startups in the tech hub of Toronto say they have had steady, double-digit increases in job applications from the U.S. since the 2016 presidential election.
  • Microsoft has submitted the 10th highest amount of LCAs — the applications required before submitting H-1B petitions — and employs 45 Dreamers. When asked what the company's contingency plan was in the face of the Trump administration's proposed immigration policies, Microsoft President Brad Smith told Axios in a February interview:
Vancouver is and always will be 143 miles from Seattle. We can employ people in Canada.
— Microsoft President Brad Smith
  • Some India-born tech workers in the U.S. are moving to Canada, drawn by the faster visa processes, despite the lower wages, according to Quartz.
Mexico
  • Governor Aristóteles Sandoval of Jalisco, which is home to Mexico's "Silicon Valley" in Guadalajara, has been selling the country's tech community since Trump took office.
    • He just finished touring the Silicon Valley last month, unveiling a new tech travel visa to entice U.S. workers to Guadalajara as well as a start-up portal to encourage collaboration.
    • In an open letter to U.S. tech companies last year, Sandoval wrote: "To our colleagues in U.S. tech companies who are adjusting to policy changes affecting your 85,000 foreign workers, the Mexican state of Jalisco hears you."
  • Facebook, Oracle and Amazon have expanded into Jalisco over the past year, Reuters reported several months ago.
"Given what has been proposed by the administration that creates uncertainty, it is leading companies to try to achieve certainty, and that includes looking both at talent but also hiring talent in multiple places, here and abroad."
— Dean Garfield, President of ITI
  • India-based tech industry has already established itself in Guadalajara over the past decade, with companies like TCS, Wipro and Infosys setting up shop there.
    • Mexico’s Ambassador to India, Melba Pria, told the Indian Express that if the Trump administration cracks down on visas, they will be “more than happy to have Indians relocate to Mexico.”

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