Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
I handle people ops as a consultant at several different tech startups. Many have employees on OPT or STEM OPT who didn’t get selected in this year’s H-1B lottery.
The companies want to retain these individuals, but they’re running out of options. Some companies will try again in next year’s H-1B lottery, even though they face long odds, particularly if the H-1B lottery becomes a wage-based selection process next year.
Others are looking into O-1A visas, but find that many employees don’t yet have the experience to meet the qualifications. Should we look at Canada?
— Specialist in Silicon Valley
That’s what we’re all about — finding creative immigration solutions to help U.S. employers attract and retain international talent and help international talent reach their dreams of living and working in the United States.
I’ve written a lot on how U.S. tech startups can keep their international team members in the United States. One strategy is to help the startup employees become qualified for O-1As. Another is to obtain unlimited H-1B visas without the lottery through nonprofit programs affiliated with universities. Sometimes candidates return to school for master’s degrees that offer a work option called CPT, or curricular practical training.
But sometimes, companies end up deciding to move some of their international talent to Canada to work remotely. Recently, Marc Pavlopoulos and I discussed how to help U.S. employers and international talent on my podcast. Through his two companies, Syndesus and Path to Canada, Pavlopoulos helps both U.S. tech employers and international tech talent when their employees or they themselves run out of immigration options in the United States. He most often assists U.S. tech employers when their current or prospective employees are not selected in the H-1B lottery.
Through Syndesus, a Canada-based remote employer — also known as a professional employment organization (PEO) — Pavlopoulos helps U.S. employers retain international tech workers who either no longer have visa or green card options that will enable them to remain in the United States or those who were born in India and are fed up by the decades-long wait for a U.S. green card. U.S. employers that don’t have an office in Canada can relocate these workers to Canada with the help of Syndesus, which employs these tech workers on behalf of the U.S. company, sponsoring them for a Canadian Global Talent Stream work visa.
Syndesus also helps U.S. tech startups without a presence in Canada find Canadian tech workers and employ them on the startup’s behalf. As an employer of record, Syndesus handles payroll, HR, healthcare, stock options and any issues related to Canadian employment law.
Pavlopoulos’ other company, Path to Canada, currently focuses on connecting international engineers and other tech talent working in the U.S. — including those whose OPT or STEM OPT has run out — who cannot remain in the U.S. find employment in Canada, either at a Canadian company or at the Canadian office of a U.S. company. These employees get a Global Talent Stream work visa and eventually permanent residence in Canada. Pavlopoulos intends to expand Path to Canada to help tech talent from around the world live and work in Canada.
“The conversations I’m having with U.S. tech companies is, let’s build our operations in Canada and move some of the people who can’t stay in the U.S. to Canada,” Pavlopoulos said.
Canada has made it easy for Canadian employers to hire tech talent through its Global Talent Stream immigration program. Established in 2017, Global Talent Stream enables Canadian employers to expedite hiring international workers to fill specialized occupations when Canadian workers are not available. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Canada’s Global Talent Stream visa is similar to the H-1B visa in the U.S., but without the quotas or lottery system. I’m not a Canadian immigration attorney, but to qualify for a Global Talent Stream visa, individuals only need an employment offer from a Canadian company, a technology-related degree, and one year or more of work experience in tech.
“I’m an American, and I’m concerned about our immigration policy,” said Pavlopoulos, who holds an MBA from Western University in Ontario and worked for a few years in Toronto at a software startup and a VC firm. “The U.S. needs a work visa program like Canada, where a tech degree will get you a work visa in four to six weeks.”
Within two years of receiving a Global Talent Stream visa, most individuals qualify for permanent residency in Canada, and within four years, most qualify for Canadian citizenship, Pavlopoulos added. Canadian citizenship opens up additional U.S. immigration options, such as the TN (Treaty National) visa for Canadians and the E-2 visa.
As always, I also recommend consulting an experienced immigration attorney (in the U.S. and in Canada!) who may be able to suggest additional options for the startups you work with to consider.
Thank you for supporting tech startups to attract and retain top global talent!
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The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.
Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!