Canadian tech firms will have their pick of overseas talent thanks to Trump's anti-immigrant policies

The massive talent shortage in tech has all kinds of weird effects: the inability to outbid tech giants means that badly secured hospitals get devoured by ransomware; it means that companies that value diversity get to outmaneuver much better-resourced competitors; it means that companies that pledge to be ethical can edge out their competition (and that unethical conduct can have real costs); and it means that companies get so desperate that they form industry-wide criminal conspiracies to try to short circuit the seller's market for tech skills.

The tech industry can't afford to be picky about national origins. Apple was co-founded by a Syrian refugee; Google was co-founded by a Russian emigre — indeed, more than half of the founders of billion-dollar US startups are immigrants.

For Canada — with its cheap dollars and much smaller market — this is a serious disadvantage, one that was magnified by more than a decade of politics dominated by oil extraction, not knowledge-economy or manufacturing businesses. The oil industry doesn't need a lot of big brains: at its root, oil is a bunch of holes in the ground, surrounded by guns.

But America's just shot itself in the foot by electing a man who has promised to end H-1B immigration, and to end immigration from the world's most unstable, war-torn regions — the regions from which anyone with in-demand skills will be fleeing first. Canada's new, more migrant-friendly government offers the talent that America will not accept a pretty good second prize: a neighbouring, wealthy, stable state with good access to US markets, whose government will not "extreme vet" you and make you feel like you and your family could be deported at any second, on any pretense, just to throw some red meat to the xenophobic base.

When I first moved to the UK, I had a "Highly Skilled Migrant Visa," a status I got even though I didn't have a university degree — I had to get a waiver by showing that my professional experience made up for it. There were a tiny number of people who got the HSMV through these waivers, and to qualify, we all had to be financially independent of the UK state. Most of us were running businesses that employed Britons.

Under the last Labour government, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith courted the xenophobic vote by "closing immigration loopholes," including university waivers for Highly Skilled Migrants, with practically no notice. I was lucky in that my now-wife and I were already planning our wedding and by bringing forward the date, I was able to switch to a spousal visa. Others were not so lucky or so patient. My immigration lawyers told me that they had a client who just gave up on the UK: he was American, with British children, and a business employing many Britons. The proof that the government viewed him as politically disposable convinced him that the UK wasn't the right place to run his business, so he shut it down, sold his house, and moved his family back to London.

America needs all the tech talent it can get — talent that will keep its software-enabled cars and thermostats and pacemakers from being shut down by pranksters and saboteurs, just for starters. By slamming the door on that talent, America is giving its regional neighbours a hell of a gift.

Some Canadian startups are looking forward to recruiting from the US. "It's been a giant pain in the ass to bring in foreign talent," said Christopher Reid, the CEO of Sortable, a startup based in Waterloo, Ont. that uses machine learning to optimize digital ads. (Founded two years ago, Sortable has about 50 employees.)

The new immigration measures introduced by Canada are going to be "really useful," he continued, as he praised Waterloo's startup culture—it's home to big names like Kik and Thalmic Labs, to name a few.

As for scientists, many are worried about how a Trump presidency will affect their research and funding. For now, it's impossible to say exactly what the impact will be—for one thing, he's never held elected office before. But when Nature asked scientists on Twitter how they thought the election would affect them, there was dread: worry over National Institutes of Health funding (it's currently the largest biomedical research funder in the world), worry about possible cutbacks for climate change research, worry over the future generation of scientists.

The Threat of a Brain Drain Under a Trump Presidency Is Real
[Kate Lunau/Motherboard]