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Indian Immigration To Canada Has Tripled Since 2013

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The number of Indians immigrating to Canada has more than tripled since 2013. The scale of the increase is what one would expect to witness in a refugee situation, not the result of a steady increase in international students and employment-based immigrants. The data show restrictive immigration policies in the United States, particularly during the Trump administration, have played a significant role in Indians choosing to immigrate to Canada.

The number of Indians who became permanent residents in Canada rose from 32,828 in 2013 to 118,095 in 2022, an increase of 260%, according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data. In 2022, at 118,095, Indian immigration to Canada dwarfed the next largest source countries for permanent residents: China (31,815), Afghanistan (23,735), Nigeria (22,085) and the Philippines (22,070). In 2014, Canada had more immigrants from the Philippines than from India.

Between 2004 and 2012, Indian immigration to Canada stayed between 27,000 and 36,000. Then, from 2013 to 2014, Indian immigrants to Canada rose from 32,828 to 38,364, which stayed steady in 2015 (39,340) and 2016 (39,710).

In 2017, Indian immigration to Canada increased to 51,590, then rose to 69,985 in 2018 and 85,590 in 2019. Processing and travel disruptions connected to the Covid-19 pandemic caused the number to fall to 42,870 in 2020. But in 2021, as processing problems eased and the Canadian immigration authorities gave greater weight to work experience in Canada, Indians gaining permanent residence increased to 127,940 in 2021 and settled at 118,095 in 2022.

The significant increase in the number of Indians immigrating to Canada coincided with the election of Donald Trump and his opposition to immigration, including highly educated professionals—and the Canadian government’s policies to attract and retain foreign-born talent.

In January 2015, Canada adopted the Express Entry program to streamline immigration, particularly for high-skilled workers who had experience in Canada as international students or working in temporary status. In June 2017, the Global Skills Strategy began in Canada. “The Canadian government launched a new program to encourage foreign investment in Canada, incentivize companies to open offices in Canada, and attract top foreign talent,” according to a government website.

Canada has a processing standard of two weeks for most high-skilled temporary visas, a standard unheard of in the U.S. immigration system without paying an additional premium process fee of $1,500. Unlike the United States, where the vast majority of new H-1B petitions do not result in new employees because of the low annual limits, there is no annual limit on high-skilled temporary visas in Canada.

Under Trump, the United States and Canada adopted opposite approaches to the immigration of foreign-born scientists and engineers. The team Trump brought into the White House and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) viewed highly skilled foreign-born individuals as an economic threat, a stand at odds with virtually every economist in America. H-1B denial rates soared, delays mounted and threats of further action escalated, culminating in a ban on the entry of high-skilled visa holders and employment-based immigrants in 2020.

Even Trump administration policies announced but not implemented had a negative impact by scaring off international students and potential high-skilled immigrants making career plans. Many international students believed Trump would follow through on plans to restrict or eliminate Optional Practical Training for students. Individuals with H-1B status feared the Trump administration would prevent spouses of H-1B visa holders from working by rescinding a regulation published during the Obama years. While the Trump team did not eliminate the regulation, it adopted policies at USCIS designed to cause many spouses of H-1B visa holders to lose their ability to wok in the United States, according to attorneys. (See the recent USCIS legal settlement on H-1B spouses.)

America’s destructive policies proved to be Canada’s gain, say attorneys. “Canada is benefiting from a diversion of young Indian tech workers from U.S. destinations, largely because of the challenges of obtaining and renewing H-1B visas and finding a reliable route to U.S. permanent residence,” said Peter Rekai, founder of the Toronto-based immigration law firm Rekai LLP, in an earlier interview. He added in a follow-up interview: “The Indian influx to Canada has much to do with doors closing in the United States.”

The data support this. Between 2016 and 2019, at Canadian colleges and universities, the number of Indian students rose by 182%. At the same time, at U.S. universities, graduate students from India in science and engineering declined by almost 40%.

Many Indians know that wait times for employment-based green cards in the United States can take decades due to the per-country limit and the low annual number of employment-based immigrant visas. In 2022, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) stopped an exemption from annual green card limits and backlogs for foreign nationals with a Ph.D. in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and those with a master’s degree “in a critical industry” from becoming law in the CHIPS and Science Act.

A leaked memo produced (but not released) during the Obama administration revealed USCIS concluded it has the authority to extend employment authorization to all beneficiaries of approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions. If the Biden administration were to take that action, it would make it much easier for the United States to retain talented individuals and improve the lives of many foreign-born scientists, engineers and physicians by increasing their mobility and security. (See here.)

The numbers tell the story. Until the U.S. Congress and the executive branch reform the immigration system to make it much easier for high-skilled foreign nationals, including international students, to work and build their careers in the United States, Indians will continue to view Canada as a welcome alternative to America.

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