Canada CEOs Urge Trudeau to Take Rejected U.S. Tech Workers

Updated on
  • ‘By embracing diversity, we can drive innovation,’ letter says
  • Canada will grant residency to those stranded by Trump order

Blackberry's Chen on U.S. Immigration Ban

Canada’s technology community is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to snap up industry workers caught in U.S. President Donald Trump’s border crackdown, saying embracing diversity drives innovation and the economy.

Amid chaos in U.S. airports after Trump signed an executive order barring citizens from seven mainly Muslim nations, dozens of Canada’s tech chief executive officers signed a letter asking Canada to offer immediate entry visas to those hit by the order.

“In choosing to hire, train, and mentor the best people in the world, we can build global companies that grow our economy,” said the letter, which included signatures from Shopify Inc.’s Tobi Lutke, an immigrant from Germany, and Hootsuite Media Inc.’s Ryan Holmes. “By embracing diversity, we can drive innovation to benefit the world.’’

The letter follows a move by Trudeau’s government last year to create a fast-track visa program that would let tech companies bring international workers into the country in two weeks rather than having to deal with the usual months-long bureaucratic slog.

John Chen, chief executive officer of BlackBerry Ltd., called Trump’s order “extreme,” and urged Canada to continue with its more “embracing policy” of offering visas to qualified people.

‘Leg Up’

“It gives us a little bit of a leg up in attracting talent to Canada," Chen said on Bloomberg TV Canada. More than half of Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry’s executive team and many of its employees, including Chen, are immigrants, the CEO said on the company’s blog. 

Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Microsoft Corp. and Inc. all have sizable offices in Canada. Immigration already plays a key role in their presence: the companies have been known to bring workers to Canada from South Asia or Eastern Europe to get them closer to headquarters while they wait for them to clear a more stringent U.S. visa requirements.

U.S. tech leaders have also condemned the ban, saying the engineers and software coders brought in by immigration are essential to driving their businesses and entrepreneurship; 51 percent of U.S. companies valued at more than $1 billion had an immigrant co-founder, according to a paper by the National Foundation for American Policy.

Hire American

In addition to the border ban, Trump’s team has drafted an order aimed at overhauling visa programs that allow tech companies to hire foreign workers. Companies would have to try to hire American first and if they recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the most highly paid, according to a copy reviewed by Bloomberg News. That may prompt more companies put more of their employees in Canada. As many as 85,000 workers are allowed into the U.S. annually under the programs.

Hours after the open letter from the Canadian tech leaders, Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen -- an immigrant from Somalia, one of countries on Trump’s list -- said any traveler stranded in Canada because of the order would be granted a temporary residence permit.

And Trudeau himself signaled Canada would continue to take another tack than Trump on immigration, tweeting: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith,’’ Trudeau tweeted on Saturday. “Diversity is our strength.’’

— With assistance by Michael Bellusci

(Updates with comments from BlackBerry CEO from fifth paragraph.)
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