The number of Indians immigrating to Canada has more than tripled since 2013. The magnitude of the increase is what one would expect in a refugee situation and is not the result of a steady increase in international students and employed immigrants. The data shows that restrictive immigration policies in the United States, particularly during the Trump administration, played a significant role in Indians’ decision to immigrate to Canada.
The number of Indians who became permanent residents of Canada rose from 32,828 in 2013 to 118,095 in 2022, a 260% increase, according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis of data from immigration , Refugees and Citizenship Canada. In 2022, Indian immigration to Canada, at 118,095, dwarfed the next largest source countries for permanent residents: China (31,815), Afghanistan (23,735), Nigeria (22,085), and the Philippines (22,070). In 2014, Canada had more immigrants from the Philippines than from India.
Between 2004 and 2012, Indian immigration to Canada remained between 27,000 and 36,000. Then, from 2013 to 2014, the number of Indian immigrants to Canada increased from 32,828 to 38,364, which remained constant in 2015 (39,340) and 2016 (39,710).
In 2017, Indian immigration to Canada rose to 51,590, then increased to 69,985 in 2018 and 85,590 in 2019. Processing and travel disruptions related to the Covid-19 pandemic brought the number down to 42,870 in 2020. But in 2021, as processing issues eased and Canadian immigration authorities placed more weight on work experience in Canada, the number of Indians granted permanent residency increased to 127,940 in 2021 and settled at 118,095 in 2022.
The significant increase in the number of Indians immigrating to Canada has coincided with the election of Donald Trump and his rejection of immigration, including highly skilled professionals – and the Canadian government’s policy of attracting and retaining foreign-born talent.
In January 2015, Canada introduced the Express Entry program to streamline immigration, particularly for highly skilled workers who gained experience as international students or on a temporary status in Canada. In June 2017, the Global Skills Strategy started in Canada. “The Canadian government has launched a new program to encourage foreign investment in Canada, incentivize companies to open offices in Canada and attract top foreign talent,” according to a government website.
Canada has a two-week processing standard for most high-quality temporary visas, a standard unheard of in the US immigration system, without paying an additional $1,500 premium processing fee. Unlike the United States, where the vast majority of new H-1B petitions do not result in new employees due to low annual caps, Canada has no annual cap on high-quality temporary visas.
Under Trump, the United States and Canada took opposite approaches to immigration for foreign-born scientists and engineers. The team that brought Trump into the White House and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) viewed highly educated foreign-born individuals as an economic threat, a point of contention with virtually every economist in America. H-1B denial rates rose, delays mounted and threats of further action escalated, culminating in a 2020 entry ban for highly skilled visa holders and employed immigrants.
Even the Trump administration’s announced but unenforced policies had a negative impact, deterring international students and potential high-skilled immigrants making career plans. Many international students believed Trump would implement plans to limit or eliminate optional student internships. Those with H-1B status feared the Trump administration would bar spouses of H-1B visa holders from working by repealing an ordinance issued during the Obama years. Although the Trump team has not repealed the ordinance, it has passed guidelines at USCIS that attorneys say will result in many spouses of H-1B visa holders losing their ability to work in the United States. (See recent USCIS Legal Settlement on H-1B Spouses.)
America’s destructive policies have proved Canada’s win, lawyers say. “Canada is benefiting from a diversion of young Indian tech workers from US destinations, primarily due to the challenges of obtaining and renewing H-1B visas and finding a reliable route to US permanent residency,” said Peter Rekai, Founder of Toronto-based immigration law firm Rekai LLP, in a previous interview. In a follow-up interview, he added, “The Indian influx into Canada has a lot to do with doors closing in the United States.”
The data support this. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of Indian students in Canadian colleges and universities increased by 182%. At the same time, the number of graduate students from India in science and engineering at US universities fell by almost 40%.
Many Indians know that waiting times for employment-based green cards in the United States can be decades due to per-country limitations and the low annual number of employment-based immigrant visas. In 2022, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) halted an exemption from annual green card limits and arrears for foreign nationals with a Ph.D. in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) and those with a master’s degree “in a critical industry” from becoming law in the CHIPS and Science Act.
A leaked memo prepared (but not released) during the Obama administration revealed that the USCIS concluded it had the authority to extend the employment permit to all beneficiaries of approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions. If the Biden administration took these actions, the United States would have a much easier time retaining talent and improving the lives of many foreign-born scientists, engineers, and doctors by increasing their mobility and security. (Look here.)
The numbers tell the story. Until the US Congress and Executive Branch reform the immigration system to make it much easier for highly qualified foreigners, including international students, to work and build their careers in the United States, Indians will continue to view Canada as a welcome alternative to America.