In March, when President-elect Donald Trump was still one of several candidates vying for the Republican nomination, his image appeared in a somewhat unlikely place: an ad placed by a Kitchener, Ontario, startup looking to hire software developers.
"Thinking of moving to Canada?" asked adtech firm Sortable. "Sortable is hiring."
The notice, on Facebook, got international news coverage. It was targeted more at Canadian citizens living in the United States than at American citizens looking to escape a potential Trump presidency, Sortable cofounder and CEO Christopher Reid now says.
But since the election, Canadian tech firms say far more U.S. coders are showing a serious interest in migrating north just as the Canadian government has put the welcome mat out.
In fact, days before Trump's election, Ottawa issued new regulations making it easier for foreign skilled workers to come to the country. The net effect could give a boost to the Canadian tech industry, which has long lamented a "brain drain" to Silicon Valley.
"The most significant thing is not the election," Reid says. "It’s that the Canadian government is going to make it easy to recruit in the U.S."
The rules, slated to go into effect next year, are meant to reduce visa processing waits from five or six months to as little as two weeks. The new policies, hailed by Canadian tech companies, also include provisions making it easier for workers to secure short term visas for things like company training programs and filling short term staffing crunches.
"Our industry particularly needs the ability to move temporary foreign workers in and out of the country," says Information Technology Association of Canada president Robert Watson. After all, Canada is facing a technology worker shortage that ITAC estimates could leave 180,000 tech jobs unfilled by 2020.
At the same time, Trump’s election does seem to be motivating some U.S. workers to take a more-than-joking look at relocating north. Reid says that in the days immediately following the election, U.S. traffic to Sortable’s career site jumped from four or five hits per week to more than 200 per day, and the company even received a handful of job applications mentioning the political climate in the United States.
"I can’t imagine what that looks like at a Canada-wide scale," he says. "There must have been a lot of people looking."
Other Canadian companies, including Figure 1, a social networking firm catering to medical professionals, marketing tech company Influitive, and wearables startup Thalmic Labs have all seen a spike in interest since Trump won the White House.
"We have seen a massive increase in the number of highly qualified, deeply experienced candidates applying from the U.S. specifically into our Toronto office—in fact there have been five in the past two days (20 since the election)," Influitive founder and CEO Mark Organ wrote Wednesday in an email to Fast Company. "We also have interest from super talented Canadian employees who are working in the SF Bay Area who are interested in coming back home."
Organ says he predicts a "golden age of technology" in Toronto, pushed in part by talented workers migrating to the city from around the world.
Similarly, Thalmic Labs CEO Stephen Lake says the company has seen "several people a day reaching out" since the election, including U.S. citizens and Canadians abroad, a big change from prior to November.
"I don’t traditionally get a lot of Americans or Canadians in the U.S. reaching out," he says.
Not every company reported an uptick in interest from the U.S.—Jeremy Auger, chief strategy officer at Kitchener, Ontario-based education startup D2L says the company hasn't seen much of a change since the election.
"We haven’t really seen a major uptick in Americans applying to Canadian jobs," he says, though he adds that some of that may be due to the fact that D2L already offers job opportunities around the world.
Jacqueline Bart, principal at Toronto immigration law firm Bartlaw, says she also saw a burst of calls from the United States immediately after Trump’s Nov. 8 election. Some calls were from Americans considering a move, and others were from Canadian citizens looking into the possibilities of relocating with their families back to their home country, she says.
"They either want to move to Canada and sponsor their spouse, or they want to get Canadian citizenship for their children based on the fact that they’re Canadian citizens and they’re the birth parents of their children," Bart says.
It’s unclear how many of those callers will ultimately follow through—Bart says many appeared to be considering options they could take if the United States takes a radical turn for the worse under Trump’s leadership—but there are some signs that threats to move to Canada might be more serious than after other elections.
"People certainly aren’t being discouraged to move to Canada right now," Bart says.
Students from both the U.S. and abroad are seriously considering spending their university days in Canada, rather than in the United States, The New York Times reported Thursday. Election night traffic to Canada’s immigration web portal crashed the site, and travel sites reported a recent burst of interest in one-way tickets to Canada—and a decline in searches for corresponding trips to the United States.
Trump has so far done relatively little to reassure immigrants and those from families new to the United States that they’ll be welcome under his administration, after repeatedly suggesting during his campaign that he intended to build a wall along the Mexican border, deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and impose "extreme vetting" or an out-and-out ban on Muslims looking to come to the United States.
Trump also at times critiqued the H-1B work visas used by many tech experts from other countries looking to work legally in the United States, ultimately leaving it unclear whether he will attempt to limit the program.
Rhetoric from his campaign and others in the Republican Party have also left many pessimistic about prospects under his administration for members of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as women and LGBT people.
‘A lot of the inquiries that we’re getting are from people who are trying to make up their minds and see how bad things could potentially get," Bart says, saying some of Trump’s proposed policies could lead to a "little brain drain to Canada" from the United States.
But despite what might seem to be a golden opportunity to hire U.S. programmers, Reid says Sortable is unlikely to relaunch its Trump-focused recruitment ads.
"I think it would be extremely disrespectful to do that, when you have a divided country that in my opinion is probably in a lot of pain," he says. "I don’t think you need to run an ad with a picture of the president as a recruiting tactic—I think that would be in poor taste."