Sep 20, 2017

Canada's "reverse brain drain" in the age of Trump

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Numerous startups in the tech hub of Toronto say they have had steady, double-digit increases in job applications from the United States since last year's presidential election. This is among the first concrete evidence that President Trump's hard line on immigration may be impacting the global race to attract the best minds.

What they're saying: "I've been in tech for over 20 years in Canada and in Silicon Valley, too. I've never seen candidates from the U.S. apply for Canadian positions from places like Silicon Valley," Roy Pereira, the CEO of Zoom.ai, told Axios. "That's never happened."

Why it matters: Since Trump's election, with his attacks on immigration and threats to cut back on visas, France, China and Canada, among other countries, have openly sought to poach American technologists and scientists (as we have written). The reports from Toronto suggest a threat to the United States' long edge as the preeminent magnet for the world's brightest scientific talent.

At the center of all this is MaRS: Toronto has created a 20-story, 1.5-million-square-foot startup incubator within a dense core of the city, across the street from the University of Toronto and crammed among nine research and teaching hospitals. Some 150 medical, artificial intelligence, energy, fintech and other startups have quarters in the MaRS Discovery District, in addition to IBM, Autodesk, Merck and the Vector Institute, a new AI research center that's received about $200 million in government and industry funding.

The key stat: 62% of the high-growth Canadian companies that responded to a July survey by MaRS indicated that they'd seen a notable recent increase in U.S.-based applicants. Some key examples from Toronto:

  • Zoom.ai, an enterprise chatbot startup, has seen nearly a third of its applicants for its engineering positions come from the U.S., up from almost none. That number peaked in February but has remained largely constant in the months afterward.
  • Cyclica, which assists pharmaceutical companies with drug discovery and approval, said that 85% of its applicants for a business development leadership role this year were U.S.-based. That's up from 35% last June for similar job openings.
  • Figure 1, the "Instagram for doctors," saw its U.S.-based applicants double for senior-level roles and increase by 50% for engineering roles year-over-year in January.

"If you mix up enough highly reactive molecules, and apply heat, something is going to happen," MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht told Axios.

When it happened: Cyclica CEO Naheed Kurji told Axios that he saw a "significant and notable spike" in U.S. applicants in the months immediately after the November election.

It is not only companies, but students — the seed of later scientists: U.S. applications to the University of Toronto, a leading center for the study of artificial intelligence, have risen 80% since November, the school says.

Why it happened: Pereira said that his discussions with American applicants indicated that they were "concerned just because of the directionality that the country was taking," often citing Trump's travel ban as a reason they were looking at jobs in Canada.

And they're influential: Figure 1 CEO Gregory Levey told Axios that he's meeting with American entrepreneurs this week who are looking to relocate to Toronto from Silicon Valley, describing them as "global-level talent," including "one high-flying startup CEO who just sold his company" for a significant amount of money.

A homecoming: Kurji, Pereira, and Levey all mentioned that they'd been personally contacted about the job market in Toronto by Canadian expats in the U.S., indicating that many of Canada's best and brightest are looking to come home. A big quote from Kurji:

"We're seeing a reverse brain drain for the first time. There are highly talented Canadians — educated in Canada or the U.S. — who are now seeking to come back home. There's has been a significant spike in those conversations. Some of the most highly sought-after talent are asking, 'What positions do you know of in Toronto?' These are leaders in their industries in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago."

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Brazil on Monday recorded for the first time more deaths from the novel coronavirus in a single day than the United States, Reuters notes. Brazil reported 807 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, compared to 620 in the U.S. for the same period.

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.6 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,900 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 5,490,954 — Total deaths: 345,962 — Total recoveries — 2,228,915Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 1,662,250 — Total deaths: 98,218 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: Authorities issue warning as Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Ocean City in New Jersey on May 25. Photo: Donald Kravitz/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Details: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, and there were crowded scenes in several places, notably at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri and at Daytona Beach and on the Gulf Coast in Florida, per AP. Police dispersed crowds in some places, ABC notes. But many Americans did take precautions against COVID-19 as they ventured outside for the long weekend, some three months after the pandemic began in the U.S.