The rise of the Canadian tech hub spotlights everything wrong with our own immigration policy

Let’s just imagine that you hadn’t read the headline of this article. If someone had asked you to name the next biggest tech hub in North America after Silicon Valley and New York CIty, what would you have said? Austin and Miami have been the focus of a lot of post-pandemic hype. Boston has a ton of world-class universities. Seattle has Microsoft and Amazon. 

But whatever you would have guessed, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been Toronto. 

Yet according to a recent New York Times article by Cade Metz, the Canadian city has more tech workers than another place outside Silicon Valley and New York and hosts just about any big tech company you can think of (except Meta, aka Facebook, which until it opens an office has been on a remote hiring spree). 

“Toronto’s tech work force is also growing at a faster clip than any hub in the United States,” Metz adds

Why Toronto? 

Toronto is a lovely, vibrant city, but it’s not immediately apparent to outsiders why it would be such a hot tech hub. It doesn’t boast the low taxes of Texas or Florida, the sunny weather of L.A., or the famous tech pedigree of Silicon Valley or Boston. 

As with any complex phenomenon, there are multiple factors at play, and Metz’s article runs through many of them: a big population, anchor companies like Shopify, local universities pumping out skilled talent, slightly lower hiring costs than big American hubs. But one factor stands out as both important and instructive. Toronto makes it way easier than the U.S. for super talented people to immigrate there based on the value they bring to the economy. 

“As the U.S. immigration system slowed and sputtered under the Trump administration, Canada introduced programs intended to bring skilled workers into a country that is already unusually diverse. Nearly 50 percent of Toronto’s residents were born outside the country, according to the city,” writes Metz. 

While Canada throws open its doors to PhDs and funded entrepreneurs, the U.S. subjects them to torturous, Byzantine bureaucracy (here are just a couple of real-life examples). Efforts to implement a Startup Visa in the States to make it easier for job creators to come here and, well, create jobs are perpetually stalled in Congress despite years and years of loud advocacy from the tech community. 

“It is infinitely easier to bring that kind of talent into Canada,” Heather Kirkby, chief people officer at A.I. company Recursion, tells Metz of highly skilled would-be employees. “A lot of companies have given up on immigration in the U.S. There are limits to what’s possible.”

Evidence of the impact of immigration policy isn’t just anecdotal. Business newsletter The Hustle points out that Canada’s policy of favoring economic immigrants over America’s preferred focus of family reunification “has helped fuel a 5.2% increase in Canada’s population from 2016 to 2021, 2x that of the US.”

The takeaways here seem crystal clear. One, if you’re looking to start a tech business (or get a tech job), maybe consider Canada if you haven’t already. And two, it’s far past time for America to separate its endless partisan battles over immigration in general from the open-and-shut economic case for making it easier for highly skilled folks to come here and do amazing work.