The Promise of Efficient Visa Processing for Talented Workers
Amazon Inc. is now the world’s third largest retailer. An amazing feat for a company that until recently did not have any physical stores and sold exclusively online.
When Amazon announced last year that it was looking for a city to locate a second headquarters outside of Seattle, cities across North America began to work feverishly on bids to be chosen as the site for an investment of $5 billion and the potential to bring in more than 50,000 new jobs.
Over 200 cities from across America, Canada and Mexico submitted bids to Amazon. This week the short list of 20 cities was released and to the delight of many it included Toronto, the only city chosen outside of the USA.
So why is Toronto still in the running?
One of the biggest challenges facing Amazon, and many other technology companies, is the lack of available talented workers. An immigration system that is flexible and willing to accommodate Amazon’s need for thousands of highly skilled workers can make all the difference.
In June 2017 Canada launched the Global Talent Stream that allows for two week expedited visa processing for many technology related occupations. In addition, Canada’s temporary visa programs offer great flexibility in attracting highly skilled workers to Canada.
With more options to apply to remain as permanent residents, these skilled workers may be more easily retained once they have worked in Canada for a few years and set down roots. In the current international discussion about immigration, Canada’s approach stands out and its efficiency and flexibility are no doubt a big part of the reason that Canada has made Amazon’s shortlist.
Furthermore, Toronto has an existing deep talent pool with more than 4000 active start-ups at the end of 2017. In addition to the universities in Toronto, it is in close proximity to other campuses such as Waterloo that can provide the needed talent to power these start-ups and companies that have set up large offices in Canada including Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
As the largest city in Canada, Toronto is also its commercial and financial centre, home to the largest banks, investment companies and corporations. And of course it is arguably the most diverse city in the world, with more than half of its current population born outside of Canada, and can offer its residents a high quality of life.
There are additional challenges that Amazon will face if it wants to choose Toronto as it must navigate local political pressures including the USA’s current “Buy American, Hire American” campaign. In addition, as NAFTA renegotiation talks are still underway, there is the risk that the United States may pull out of NAFTA leading to greater complications in cross-border transactions.
Overall, Amazon will have to balance all of these factors against its fundamental need to make sure it can staff its second headquarters with 50,000 employees that will likely not come from the local city but from around the world.
And there are some in Toronto that are asking the city to proceed more cautiously and are questioning whether we really want an online retailing giant in our city. Given the concerns about the lack of existing high tech talent in Toronto, executives from Toronto’s start-up community are concerned that Amazon could soak up all the local high-tech talent, leaving many other companies struggling to find the experts they need for their businesses to operate and grow and may well prevent Toronto from nourishing its own Amazon-like success.
They argue that the new expedited visa programs should be used to help existing start-ups and companies that are facing the current talent shortage and we should be weary of creating a bigger labour shortage.
We will have to wait and see what Amazon decides in the months to come.
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Zeynab Ziaie is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario and New York. Her legal practice focuses on immigration and business law. She often works with clients to find suitable solutions in complex immigration and citizenship cases and represents clients at all levels of court.