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Canadian tech firm founders urge Ottawa to support people displaced by Trump’s travel ban

Canadian tech firm founders urge Ottawa to support people displaced by Trump’s travel ban 

In an open letter to Ottawa, they argued that the ban has the potential of negatively impacting Canadian companies that do business with the U.S.

Last Friday, Trump issued an executive order that banned all people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The same order suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days.

The swiftness with which the decision was handed down brought about much confusion on how to implement the order at various U.S. entry points resulting in the detention of some travelers from the country’s on the list. This, in turn, has sparked mass protests in a number of U.S. airports.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted out:

Newly named homeland security secretary John Kelly also belatedly clarified in a statement on Sunday that green-card holders (legal permanent residents in the U.S.) are will not be included in the travel ban.

On Monday, Trump defended his order and stood pat on his decision to implement it immediately.

He also downplayed the mass protests in U.S. airports.

As the fallout from the order continued, Canada’s technology community banded together in opposition of Trump’s move and said they were against the marginalization of people based on birthplace, race, or religion.

“Many Canadian tech entrepreneurs are immigrants, are the children of immigrants, employ and have been employed by immigrants,” members of the community wrote in an open letter to Ottawa on Sunday. “As connected economies, decisions by the United States can directly impact every business north of the border. The recently signed Executive Order to block entry of citizens from seven countries has already impacted several in our community. As a community, we are all affected.”

They called on Trudeau and other Canadian political leaders to oppose laws that attack inclusion.

“The Canadian tech community also calls on the Canadian federal government to institute an immediate and targeted visa providing those currently displaced by the US Executive Order with temporary residency in Canada,” the signatories to the letter said. “This visa would allow these residents to live and work in Canada with access to benefits until such time as they can complete the application process for permanent residency if they so choose. We encourage provincial and municipal governments across Canada to lend support as they can.”

Both the U.S. and Canadian technology industries rely heavily on IT professionals with foreign visas, according to Vanessa Lee, co-founder of a Toronto-based online home healthcare service company, Sage Care Labs.

“I am fortunate to have been born and raised here. I hold a Canadian passport,” Lee, one of the signatories to the letter said. “But before co-founding Sage, I worked at Microsoft in Seattle. Some of my co-workers were immigrants on temporary work visas. I am worried how this ban would impact them.”

She said the ban might even restrict those already in the U.S. from visiting their families back home.

Lee also said the ban could make it hard from some tech professionals working in Canada who happen to have passports from the seven Muslim-majority states to travel to the U.S. on business-related trips.

“It’s way too early yet and a lot of people are confused about what this could mean,” said Mark Schrutt, research vice-president for services and enterprise applications at analyst firm IDC Canada.

But the challenges faced by tech companies both in Canada and south of the border and more complex, according to Schrutt.

“They realize that a substantial number of their workforce will be replaced by automation,” he said. “Many are looking at automation, AI, and cognitive technology. They want to know how they can pivot to this new model.”

How the ban could benefit Canada

“In Canada, a good third of the ICT workforce are immigrants,” according to Schrutt. “However, the bulk of this ICT workforce, both here and the U.S. comes from India, China and some Eastern European states and not the countries mentioned in Trump’s order.”

He said that even before Trump’s order, many companies have already expressed concerns about how the president’s platform would impact their business.

Any policy that introduces hurdles to the movement of goods, services, and talent for businesses would mean additional burden and costs, he said. “More road blocks, make business more expensive.”

There could be some positive side effect from Trump’s travel ban, according to Schrutt.
The Canadian ICT sector has been struggling to reverse a decades-long brain drain of skilled talent immigrating to the U.S., according to a recent IDC report released shortly after Trump won the U.S. presidential race.

IDC forecasts that Canada’s faces a shortage of 100,000 ICT workers by 2020.

Trump’s victory, as well as developments like his recent travel ban “will lead to increased interest in Canada for software programmers, engineers, venture capitalist, and high-tech executives moving or returning to companies in Canada,” the report said. “It is worth noting that the United States is as large a source of IT talent for Canada as India is.”

We need only to look back a couple of months ago in November 8, when Web traffic emanating from the U.S. Internet users caused the Citizenship and Immigration Canada Web site to crash.

“Was this an immediate ‘knee jerk’ reaction, or will it translate into a real migration to Canada,” IDC asked.

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