Living the Dream: How Canada’s Digital Nomad Program is Changing the Game for Remote Workers
The new H-1B visa allows express entry for remote employees of non-Canadian companies, allowing STEM candidates unprecedented flexibility to make their next move…
Canada has introduced a new ‘digital nomad program’ that seeks to reverse the flow of high-level talent leaving the country for the US, estimated at 0.7% of the national population every year.
The catchily-titled H-1B Visa invites the opportunity for ‘express entry’ into Canada for coveted candidates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. That means that workers employed by a non-Canadian company can live and work from Canada without a permit for a period of up to six months, while they decide their next move. For Canada, they’ll be hoping that move will be something permanent on its soil.
“Should [the worker] receive a job offer while they’re here,” said Sean Fraser, the Canadian immigration minister, at a recent conference in Toronto, “we’re going to allow them to continue to stay and work in Canada.”
The country’s focus on STEM candidates is deliberate. In this uncertain economic climate, and with a Tech Crunch looming, the country aims to meet the potential problems head-on by focusing its efforts on an area which stands to establish innovation as key to prosperity in the country’s economy.
While that ‘brain drain’ statistic of the overall population is worrying, Canada has actually started to turn the tide, especially in STEM. As of a 2022 report, ‘4 out of 5 of all STEM graduates choose to stay in Canada’. In fact, a congressional hearing in Washington noted that growth in Silicon Valley was being outpaced by Toronto, Montréal, and Edmonton. As Silicon Valley and the Bay Area reach the ceiling of their half-century expansion, America’s neighbors to the north look the most likely to benefit from that stasis.
Last year’s report from Canadian Workforce Insights—a LinkedIn newsletter that is about exactly what you’d expect—had some interesting highlights. Between the Spring of 2021 and 2022:
- STEM workforce in Canada grew by 1.6% overall (compared to 1.1% in the US)
- Salaries in the sector increased by as much as 30%
- And Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto saw a digital skills growth of 6.3% v 4.7% in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and NYC
Still, with the sector growing and salaries blooming, a labor problem was on the horizon. And that’s where the door for digital nomads beckons.
A lifestyle 10,000 years in the making
“Technology does not cause change but it amplifies change,” wrote Japanese business legend Tsugio Makimoto in 1997, a man known as ‘Mr. Semiconductor’ in his home country. “Early in the next millennium it will deliver the capacity to live and work on the move.”
When the term ‘digital nomad’ first threatened to enter the public consciousness, the world was a very different place. Among 1997’s many watershed moments (Titanic, The Spice Girls, and Harry Potter, et al), perhaps none was more crucial to the idea of the new world of work than Steve Jobs’ grand return to Apple.
Less than a decade later, after a period of expansion and innovation at Apple which changed the technology landscape forever, creating products aimed at a new kind of person who would live and work on the move, Jobs would codify the digital nomad ethos:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” Jobs told Stanford grads in a 2005 commencement speech. “Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
The ‘digital nomad’—a term introduced and codified by Makimoto and Electronics Weekly journalist David Manners in their highly-readable book of the same name—was a vision of the future, by way of looking at the past.
“Man started out as nomadic,” reads the book’s opening epigraph, a quote from Craig O. McCaw, pioneer of the cellphone industry. “It may be the most natural state for human beings.”
This new phase, ushered in by the kind of technological advancement business could not ignore, allowed for the biggest lifestyle change in 10,000 years of human civilization, ever since humanity ceased its nomadic condition and settled upon the farm.
Since those prophetic days of the late-nineties, the digital nomads’ quest for holistic freedom to choose the shape and rhythm of their personal and professional life has only grown in importance. The message is clear: Live wherever, work wherever.
As economic crises and an increasingly automated world brings us to the precipice of yet another reckoning with the world of business, Canada encouraging further bolstering of its potential talent pool comes at a perfect time.
An opportunity not without challenges
“Combining its unparalleled ability to attract talent with the innovative capacity of its entrepreneurs, Canada is the best place in the world to start and scale a technology company,” says François-Philippe Champagne, the country’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. Then again, as one of the key figures in Canada’s new fast-track digital nomad visa, he would say that.
It can be—as they say—hard to argue with Champagne. But we’d be remiss to not address the significant hurdles that forced Canada’s hand in introducing the H-1B visa.
While the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) noted that Canada’s economy grew by 3.2% last year (higher than the G20 average of 3%), its standard of living—referring to the quantity and quality of material goods and services available to a given population—has failed to rebound to pre-pandemic levels. Without serious intervention, thanks to economic challenges on a macro- and micro-scale, it only looks to trend downwards, as the OECD predicts Canada could ‘rank last in real GDP per capita growth until 2060’.
But the new visa program offers a lifeline. As increased immigration eases the country’s labor deficit, digital nomads working in STEM positions can sample life in Canada with a flexibility previously unavailable. As political instability dominates many developed countries, Canada’s stable democracy, consistent tech growth, and a plethora of unique geographic opportunities—with the world’s longest coastline, the country has a massive opportunity to dominate the future of the lucrative ‘Blue Carbon’ market in the fight against climate change—provide an interesting place to establish it as a center of innovation. And with more and more Canadian STEM graduates staying in the country, the industry will be filled with new and exciting ideas to explore.
With a 2022 Accenture study showing only 26% of CEOs had ‘future-ready strategy focused on changing how, why and where we work’ there has never been a better time for emergent employers (and employees) to take control of the narrative.
What does this mean for creating a world without borders?
The pandemic changed the way we work forever, but from Makimoto to Multiplier, the impulse has been the same: Creating a working world without borders.
“What has been cut apart cannot be glued back together,” sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes of our newfound freedom through technology and globalization in his book, Liquid Modernity. Going back to the old ways is impossible.
Gone are the templated ways of the working world. The inevitable rush hour crush towards cubicles in stuffy office blocks. At Multiplier, we’ve seen how cultural movements have reshaped how we do business and the benefits that come from these new forms.
For years we’ve been plugged into the Canadian tech market, watching it grow, and helping businesses there plug into a global talent community that was previously outside of their hiring circle. Now, with the advent of Canada’s new digital nomad program, employers can offer its candidates an even more hybridized professional life: where travel and experience do not have to come at the expense of doing great work.
At Multiplier, we can offer businesses a seamless opportunity to get on at the ground floor in the future of STEM work in North America.
Book your demo here.