On 17 July 2017, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo delaying the Obama-backed International Entrepreneurship Rule until 14 March 2018. The rule was meant to increase and enhance entrepreneurship, innovation, and job creation in the United States by allowing foreign entrepreneurs to stay in the country to build their startups. The memo states that DHS may “ultimately eliminate the program” after it has solicited comments from the public. Add this to the uncertainty around the H-1B visa, that admits foreign workers into specialty occupations in the United States, and skilled talent may start to look to countries with friendlier immigration policies.

During President Trump’s recent Tech Week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who moved to the United States from India to undertake a Masters degree, stressed the need to bring in and retain talent. Trump responded: “Let’s fix that.” The president claimed he wanted to ensure tech companies could get the talent they wanted in response to concerns also voiced by other top tech executives. Microsoft was one of more than 400 organisations that lobbied the government on the issue of immigration last year, along with others like Alphabet Inc., and Qualcomm Inc. – also present at Tech Week.

While the Trump administration attempts to protect US jobs through its policy changes, the immigration of tech talent to Australia continues to be a contentious topic amongst leaders in that industry, with an initially negative response to changes to the Australian Subclass 457 visa announced in April. Subsequent changes to the list of accepted skills and occupations have been well received, as has the assertion by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton that “the government recognises the importance of enabling Australian businesses to tap into global talent to remain internationally competitive and support a strong national science and innovation agenda”. 

While the United States is focused on "America First" and Australia is putting Australian workers first, Canada has launched a Global Skills Strategy visa program to quickly attract both tech workers and people with specific business experience. This program allows firms to have a position pre-approved and get visas within two weeks if an employer is hiring a worker in a position on the Global Talent occupations list, according to an analysis by global immigration law firm Canadim. The quick processing times of the Global Skills Strategy program could draw foreign talent to Canada instead of the United States.

Less subtle attempts to attract foreign skilled workers include campaigns by startups like True North, which is positioning itself as a backup plan for US companies looking to “ensure business continuity in the face of an uncertain immigration environment” by moving businesses to Canada’s stable atmosphere. Go North Canada focuses on returning expatriates working in the United States to the growing tech industry in Canada. 

In a world where tech skills are increasingly in demand and there is a growing gap between the demand for such skills and the number of graduates each year, immigration is a clear opportunity. In this instance, perhaps Australia should look to Canada’s example of attracting talent, welcoming skilled people and organisations with open arms.