Skilled Remigration from the US to Canada

Published On: November 2020Categories: 2020 Conference Editorials, EditorialsTags: ,


Camelia Tigau

National Autonomous University of Mexico

Camelia Tigau

In a global context of anti-migrant discourse, Canada seems to preserve the economic and demographic rationality to continue attracting foreign professionals. Due to the rise of the hate speech towards migrants by right-wing politicians in the United States, Canada has benefited by a spillover effect in migrant attraction, by projecting itself as a friendly and easily accessible country for professionals around the world; therefore, Canada has become an alternative destination for those who cannot renew their visas in the United States, are uncomfortable with the anti-immigrant discourse, but do not wish to return to their countries of origin.

Fifteen years ago, Shachar (2006) introduced the concept of competitive migration regimes to analyze the way in which public policies on skilled migration are inspired by the strategies of other countries, such as the point systems or the facilities to obtain residency and citizenship. The mutual causation of immigration policies theorized by Shachar is still valid today, not necessarily to promote the reception of foreign workers but also to restrict their entry into countries that have been traditional destinations for skilled migration, such as the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia. As a consequence of the populist boom, most of the large countries receiving migration have come to question the traditional paradigms of brain gain and reverse technology transfer. The demographic, economic and political trends of the 21st century have shown a return to protectionism on domestic labor markets. 

However, Canada is an exception to this new re-bordering tendency, since the country continues to promote immigration, especially of skilled workers. In fact, Canada has benefitted from restrictions in the US to attract certain relocated migrants, such as the Indians. For this reason, remigration is one of the key concepts to understand the mobility of human capital in North America.

The existing literature on remigration explains this particular process in which migrants change countries for the second or third time in their lives. In the times of the rise of the nation state, remigration was promoted for “ethnic cleansing” purposes. In many situations, remigration involved an act of expulsion, in a similar way that European refugees were displaced during World War II.

At present, the remigration of professionals, social actors with more capacity for migration agency and mobility than low-skilled workers, responds to the fluidity of labor markets in globalization (Steiner, 2019). Skilled remigration from the United States to Canada is not necessarily a forced migration process, but rather a second opportunity for professionals who may relocate if they are not satisfied with their prospects for settling in the United States.

The reduction of quotas for H-1B visas and their temporary suspension under the Donald Trump administration, as well as the subsequent tightening of the procedures to obtain them, has been interpreted by certain authors as a failure in brain attraction and also as a risky policy that would threaten the US leadership in science and technology. Some media even posed the question on whether the American dream still resided in the United States or if we should now speak more of the Canadian dream. 

At the same time as the restrictions and repeated restrictions of H1B visas in the United States, Canada launched the Global Skills Strategy (GSS) in 2017 to facilitate the rapid entry of certain occupations required by companies for innovation purposes. As a direct action of GSS, a start-up visa was created for investors who can help in job creation in Canada. In particular, Toronto is described as providing real competition to other technology hubs in the US. According to the Envoy Global report, Toronto created 30,000 tech jobs in 2017, more than the Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington DC combined. Another major city is Ottawa, home to 1,700 technology companies.

Yet, a good attraction strategy has not always corresponded to an optimal integration of migrants into the Canadian labor market. There is a historical difference between the easy entry of professionals in Canada and their difficulty in obtaining jobs according to their educational level, partly due to their lack of Canadian experience and revalidation of credentials or degrees. According to a report on the Canadian labor market, the unemployment rate of skilled foreign workers was 12.1% in 2015, 8% higher than for natives. The figure was even higher for foreign women, that is, 15.2% (Harford 2016).

Canada’s New Migration Plan (2020) promises better job integration for newcomers. The country has implemented a private infrastructure to support immigrants, with consultancy firms such as MK Migration, directed to foreign professionals only. 

In general, there is an image of Canada as a destination that has been increasing its attractiveness to migrants, especially in the period that followed Donald Trump’s takeover. Indians are the most relevant population for remigration from the United States to Canada. They have been mostly affected by the changes in H1B visas in the US. Instead, Indians have access to a faster process to obtain residency in Canada, that may take one decade less than in the US. 

According to data from the 2016 Census, there are 1,347,710 Indians in Canada, half of whom are first generation migrants. The Toronto metropolitan area is the main receiver for this population, where 51% of Indian migrants reside. Half of the new arrivals are skilled young migrants, who arrived in Canada before age 44 (Aggrawal and Lovell, 2008). 

Skilled immigrants have historically benefitted the Canadian demographics and economy, especially in areas such as technology, real estate and tourism. Canadian friendly immigration policies can be considered as a competitive advantage that facilitates the spillover effect of skilled remigration from the United States to Canada.



2008 “Indian Immigrants in Canada: The Shades of Economic Integration.” Seminar Presentation, Ontario Metropolis Centre. 


2016 ¨The Canadian Dream: New immigrants ready to sacrifice and struggle for kids’ future¨, Ottawa Citizen,, publicada el 1 de julio, consultada el 2 de diciembre de 2019 


2006 “The Race for Talent: Highly Skilled Migrants and Competitive Immigration Regimes”. New York University Law Review vol. 81:148