For many tech workers, northern California isn’t quite north enough.
According to a new qualitative survey of 43 high-growth Canadian startups, Donald Trump’s election victory last November sparked a surge of immigration to Toronto among US-based engineers and tech entrepreneurs.
“These companies have been preparing for this opportunity for a while,” Karen Greve Young, vice president of partnerships at the Canadian company MaRS, which helps launch startups and compiled the new data, told Business Insider.
As Toronto’s tech presence has grown over the last several years, so too has the Canadian government’s desire to recruit talent from all over the world, Greve Young said. Most recently, in July, the government amended its Express Entry program of skilled worker visas to fast-track people (and their spouses) coming to work in Canada.
Unlike America’s H1-B visa program, which is designed for high-skilled workers and only permits spouses to live — but not work — in the US (and which President Trump has threatened to reduce), Express Entry has become yet another signal Canada wants to be known for a thriving tech scene. ]
MaRS’ study asked 43 local startups what kind of interest they have seen from both American and international workers over the last year. Out of that, 18 startups said there were noticeable and surprising upticks in US-based applications, while the remainder either saw no change or didn’t keep track of that information. Greve Young believes the numbers could be artificially low.
“I think the others may not have happened to be hiring at that exact moment,” she said. “Right now, artificial intelligence is absolutely on fire in Toronto, so we have a lot of companies that will be particularly relevant to these international audiences.”
Natasha Flora, director of operations at the software company Figure 1, said people were preparing for a Canadian move even before Trump won in November.
“Before the election, one of our New York employees half-jokingly asked if he could work in the Toronto office if Donald Trump won,” Flora told Business Insider. “More recently, one tenured professor in the US approached us about joining Figure 1 in some capacity and leaving behind a secure and highly coveted job simply because she desperately wanted to get her and her children out of the country.”
Between January 1 of 2016 and 2017, Figure 1 saw its US-based applications for senior-level roles double. Other companies saw similar jumps. Cyclica, a biotechnology company, saw its US-based applications for development roles increase from 35% in 2016 to 85% in 2017. Prior to last year, chatbot startup Zoom.ai had never had international interest; this year, 78% of software engineer applicants came from outside Canada. The greatest chunk, 31% of people, came from the US.
Trump’s win isn’t the only reason Canadian startups are seeing US talent trickle in, Greve Young said. Toronto and Vancouver are becoming powerhouses in the tech world. (They recently placed 9th and 14th, respectively, in Business Insider’s ranking of the world’s most high-tech cities.)
“Toronto’s star has been rising,” she said. Trump’s victory, Greve Young believes, convinced an entire swath of people who had been considering moving to Canada that the move was actually worth it. “We’ve seen an inflection point that was sparked by the politics, but we already had a massive increase here.”
Silicon Valley may still be the capital of technology and innovation, but it’s becoming less of a default for people looking to pursue tech stardom in North America.
“The best global tech talent wants to be where they anticipate the best global tech to be emerging,” she said. “And you’re also seeing indications that that might not be in the States right now.”
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